Politics

Outside Of The Debate, College Students Explain Why They Are Feeling The Bern

CREDIT: Alice Ollstein

UNH students Emily Wilcox and Summer Auvil demonstrate for Bernie Sanders outside Thursday night’s Democratic debate.

DURHAM, NH — In the roped-off “free speech zone” on a dark side street of the University of New Hampshire’s campus, a growing crowd of students and locals were feeling the Bern. Not a single sign for Hillary Clinton was visible amid the sea of homemade and official campaign signs for Bernie Sanders as the candidates debated for the first time one-on-one. Across from the debate hall, a rag-tag marching band played “Down by the Riverside” as competing chants of “This is what democracy looks like” and “Another world is possible” filled the cold night air.

“I’m 100 percent Bernie,” freshman and first-time voter Emily Wilcox told ThinkProgress. “On education, women’s rights, equality, climate, and really everything, he’s great. He’s looking to the future and thinking about our generation.”

Wearing American flags as capes and BERNIE scrawled across their foreheads in black marker, Wilcox and her friend Summer Auvil said the campus has been leaning towards Sanders in large part because of his promise of tuition-free higher education. The students said signs for Clinton or any Republican candidate were rare on their campus.

“Bernie is just the right choice,” Auvil, a sophomore, said. “Kids are sick of being worried about paying their debt when they get out of college. I had to take out a lot of loans, and it’s a burden hanging over your head. Both of us know people who went into the military just because they couldn’t pay their loans.”

“Education should be a right, not a privilege,” Wilcox added.

Nearby, Adam Churchly enthusiastically agreed, saying Sanders is the only candidate who appeals to him because of his support for single-payer healthcare. “I come from a country where we’re really looked after,” he said, explaining that he was born in England but is now a U.S. citizen. “It’s something that quite scares me here in America. If I lose my job, where does that leave me? It should be a right for everyone to have.”

“I live from paycheck to paycheck, so what Bernie is standing for means a lot to me,” Churchly added. “He’s for the people. Not many politicians are really for the people.”

As Bernie Sanders faces off against Hillary Clinton three nights in a row in the Granite State — Wednesday’s town hall in Derry, Thursday’s debate in Durham, and Friday’s dinner in Manchester — a new poll shows the Vermont senator 20 points ahead of the former first later and Secretary of State. Among young voters, between ages 18 and 29, Sanders leads by more than 50 points in the NBC News/WSJ/Marist poll released Thursday night.

In Monday night’s Iowa Caucus, Sanders dominated among young voters as well, winning over 84 percent of voters between ages 17 and 29.

Asked to explain his appeal to the nation’s youngest voters, Sanders told reporters gathered in a Electrical Workers union hall in Concord that a mix of idealism and realism is driving the support.

“Young people look at this country and say, ‘We can be much more,’” Sanders said. “They are very concerned about institutional racism in this country. They are concerned about a broken criminal justice system. They are concerned about climate change. They are concerned about women’s rights. They are concerned about gay rights. They want our country to do more in a lot of areas.”

“Then there’s another side that is not idealistic, but very personal and very real,” he continued. “They understand that everything being equal, they will have a lower standard of living than their parents if we don’t change how our economy functions. Those who were able to go to college are overwhelmed with student debt. They’re worried whether decent jobs will be there when they graduate. They are being punished severely because they wanted to get an education. That’s wrong and they know it.”

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CREDIT: Alice Ollstein

After narrowly winning in Iowa, Clinton is pouring resources into bolstering her chances in New Hampshire, bringing her husband and daughter in to stump for her, and dispatching the staff from her headquarters to fan out across the Granite State.

Yet all this organizing may not save her among young New Hampshirites. In a telling moment during Wednesday night’s CNN town hall, a young New Hampshire voter named Taylor Gipple told Clinton he doesn’t see much enthusiasm for her campaign from his peers. “In fact, I’ve heard from quite a few people my age that they think you’re dishonest.”

Clinton countered that there are hundreds of young people across the state “enthusiastically working for me,” and told Gipple the enthusiasm gap was a result of her being the target of many years of attacks from Republicans. “I’ve been on the front lines of change since I was your age, giving the people who are left out and left behind a chance to make the most of their own lives.”

“Here’s what I want young people to know,” Clinton said, “They don’t have to be there for me, I’m going to be for them.”