Remember the quip that if you’re young and not liberal you don’t have a heart; or, conversely, if you’re old and not conservative you don’t have a brain.
Could there be a more confounding validation of this age-old perspective than the across-generational appeal of Bernie Sanders? It’s as though researchers decided to use a statistical outlier to prove their hypothesis.
A USA Today article on February 8 began: “Sen. Bernie Sanders has already shown he’s a hit with young voters, but the 74-year-old Vermont independent will have to work to win over his contemporaries.”
In Iowa Sanders earned the support of a remarkable 84 percent of voters 17 to 29 years old. The more conservative and establishment Clinton, on the other hand, bested Sanders by 69 percent to 26 percent among voters 65 and older.
Clinton’s spin machine is quick to exploit polls and anecdotal comments of older voters who think that while Sanders’ populist promises are good ideas, they’re not achievable.
Yet, it’s not as though today’s older adults are unfamiliar with progressive ideologies. Decades ago many supported the candidacies of RFK, George McGovern and Eugene McCarthy. Nowadays, however, this cohort leans toward pragmatism rather than idealism. The change of heart could be attributed to life experience and accrued wisdom, or perhaps just impatience and intolerance with pie-in-the-sky promises.
Sanders expects his early primary successes will help establish him a serious alternative, with a “much bigger target universe in terms of voters,” said Tad Devine, his senior media advisor. “We think seniors are going to be a big part of that.”
Sanders defends his voting record on Medicare and Social Security and says he’s “going to focus on senior issues.” In spite of these positions, skeptical older adults might see him as a wolf in sheep’s clothing. After all, Justin Bieber could croon like Frank Sinatra all day long, but don’t expect anyone over 65, with a brain, to buy his shtick.