By Katie Montgomery
The last thing that Anne Garwig would describe herself as is a political junkie. But, she does love Senator Bernie Sanders, and his underdog story has people like Garwig excited that he just might be able to win the presidential nomination at the Democratic National Convention.
“Most of us who knew who he was when he was just starting out didn’t have any hope that any of this was going to happen. It seemed like a real long shot,” Garwig said. “It still feels kind of like a dream that people have been so into what he’s been saying.”
This isn’t the first time a Democratic candidate has captured the attention of young and politically disinterested Americans. Paul Sracic, chair of the department of politics and international relations, said it was this kind of youth support that propelled Obama to success in 2008.
“By incredible margins, [18 to 29-year-olds] favored Barack Obama in 2008 in Iowa,” he said. “Bernie Sanders has the same kind of margins right now. It’s Obama-like.”
Unfortunately for Sanders, the age group that supports him the most is the least likely to get politically involved, let alone vote. If Sanders can get younger Americans excited about politics, like Garwig is, Sracic said he may have a shot at a presidential nomination.
Becoming a delegate is not glamorous or well publicized, Garwig said. As long as someone is a registered Democrat or independent in the 13th Congressional District, they can submit application paperwork to the candidate of choice’s staff for approval. After that, it’s a two-minute speech at the local caucus to try and win votes from the attendees, who elect four male delegates and four female delegates to represent each of the Democratic candidates at the Convention. Garwig glided through the process and was the first woman chosen to represent Sanders.
Unlike the Republican Party, which relies on a winner-take-all system for sending delegates to its National Convention, the Democrats use proportional representation — and the order the delegates were elected in at the local caucus matters.
“If Bernie wins 75 percent of the 13th District, the top 75 percent of his delegates go,” Garwig said. “Hopefully, yes, I will be there. But it’s not a given.”
Because of this, the Republicans are able to settle on a final candidate much sooner than the Democrats, but the Democratic nomination is usually still known before the Convention.
That may not be the case this year if Sanders is able to compete with Sen. Hillary Clinton by receiving strong support from younger Americans.
“We haven’t had an exciting convention in a very long time. We could this year,” Sracic says.
Like Obama in 2008, Sanders may have to rely on the power of super delegates — elected officials and party leaders who do not represent a district — to win the nomination.
“That’s what the super delegates are there for,” Sracic said. “They, in the end, simply want to pick the most electable candidate.”
Even though Sanders is getting younger Americans excited and involved in politics, Sracic doesn’t know if that will be enough to convince the super delegates to bet on him. He said that young people, historically, don’t vote, even if they care about a politician. Polling numbers and approval ratings do not always translate into actual voting margins, he cautioned.
“The super delegates are only going to start to make a difference if the candidates are close,” he said. “We don’t know if it’s going to be a race yet . . . Whether Sanders can do the same thing that Obama did and drive that youth turnout, we’ll see.”
Garwig, however, is hopeful that politics are changing in the U.S., and that this kind of youth involvement and interest will become a new norm for American politics.
“[Bernie’s popularity] is probably a sign of a shift that some may think is a fluke, but I think we’re moving into a new way of choosing candidates,” she said.
Regardless of the Convention’s outcome, Garwig thinks that Sanders has already done a lot of good by proving to the nation that being a progressive is not a bad thing.
“I think this is giving people a new opportunity to be more comfortable with [being a progressive],” she said. “I think that’s a trend that we’re going to see going forward.”