College students put down their Sanders signs, wonder what’s next


The crowd cheers as then-Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders at the Avalon in Los Angeles for a fundraiser following the campaign’s first debate the prior night in Las Vegas. (Rick Loomis/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

By Eleanor Mueller, McClatchy Washington Bureau

With Bernie Sanders all but out of the picture as a presidential candidate, his crowds of T-shirt-clad, “Bernie”-chanting college supporters are left wondering — what next?

The answer may not be what Hillary Clinton hopes.

At the finish line of a race ending closer than most anticipated, former Secretary of State Clinton has become the presumptive Democratic nominee, leaving Sanders’ many university-going supporters searching for what comes next. Notorious for attracting younger and first-time voters, the 72-year-old senator from Vermont has crafted a campaign that’s drawn thousands of college students.


Those students now are faced with the possibility of a ballot without Sanders’ name on it and they must make a decision: Vote for Clinton, vote for a third party or don’t vote at all.

“They’re not into politics — they’re into a movement,” Robert Guttman, professor and director of the Center for Politics & Foreign Relations at George Mason University, said in an interview. “To give that up and vote for a conventional candidate? That’s not cool.”

With thousands of delegates won in the past months, Sanders’ support by this key younger demographic is concretely evident, Guttman said. Whether it’s his uncompromisingly liberal ideology or his uniquely genuine public image, the white-haired, wrinkly clothed politician has become, for lack of a better word, “cool.”

In an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released in mid-April, during a heated campaign period, Clinton and Sanders were shown as tied, with 50 percent for Clinton and 48 percent for Sanders. However, when responses were split by age group, Sanders came out far ahead among voters younger than 50, with a lead of 31 points.

“When you look at his positions, they skew younger,” Chris Riker, a student at Barry University in Miami and a Sanders delegate in the primary, said in an interview. “But when you look at character and when you look at personality — Bernie is so uncool that it’s cool.”

It’s these characteristics that paint Sanders as “not an establishment politician,” Alex Forgue, research director for College Students for Bernie and a student at Northern Illinois University, said in an interview.

Both Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, and Clinton are commonly viewed as in this category, and that’s one reason that facing their names on the ballot is so daunting for Sanders’ college student supporters, Forgue said.


So daunting, in fact, that many may not vote at all.

“Bernie tapped into a group that wasn’t engaged previously,” Wayne Lesperance, interim dean of undergraduate programs at New England College, said in an interview. “The concern is now that they [college students] just go home.”

While an MTV poll released June 6 found that a majority of Sanders millennials would vote for Clinton should he concede, 18 percent reported they wouldn’t vote at all.

“I’d say between 20 and 30 percent of Bernie supporters are going to stay home,” Riker said. “The difference between Trump and Clinton will be marginal for these people.”

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