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An evening with Sanders — but what do his supporters have to say?

Photo by Paul Udstrand
Bernie is resonating with the young.

On Jan. 26 I decided to check out Bernie Sanders. Sanders made a campaign stop at the St. Paul RiverCentre that drew 20,000 people.

Paul Udstrand

To be honest, I’m flabbergasted that this 73-year-old white guy who seems to frequently lose his hair comb is attracting these huge crowds. You don’t need me to tell you about Bernie Sanders; I won’t discuss his speech. My mission is to tell you what I discovered about his supporters.

I’d say 60 percent to 70 percent of the people attending this event were 30 to 35 years old or younger. Bernie is resonating with the young. The crowd appeared to be split more or less evenly between men and women, but there weren’t a lot of people of color to be seen.

This wasn’t a scientific survey of any kind, but I did have lengthy conversations with several attendees; I wasn’t looking for sound bites. I asked which message is resonating the most? To my surprise, no single message stood out as the main attraction, and more important, people were able to discuss all of the issues in depth.

One 17-year-old talked at length about single-payer health care. He mentioned its efficiency and how it can be accomplished by simply expanding Medicare. When I pointed out that it meant additional taxes, he bounced back without missing a beat: “Yeah, but it’ll save most Americans around $5,000 in health-care premiums.” So I asked if health care was his main attraction to Bernie and to my surprise he said “no” and started talking about the financial sector and the fact that Bernie has no super-PAC. Then he spoke of Bernie’s credentials as a “progressive.” Cognizant of the fact that I was talking to a 17-year-old I asked: “OK, but what’s a ‘progressive’ ”? His response: “Someone, unlike Clinton, who looks beyond the status quo and wants to push liberal agendas to the next level.” That’s as a good a definition as I’ve heard.

Climate change, consistency

A young woman said that climate change is a huge issue for her generation and Bernie is the strongest voice in favor of clean energy: “He was against the Keystone Pipeline from day one.”

The fact that Bernie is a progressive, and has been his whole political career, actually came up in almost every conversation I had. An 18-year-old I talked to said: “Look, this is America, it’s supposed to be the greatest country in the world. We can do anything, yet we can’t have a single payer system?” I met a 32-year-old who’s voted for Republicans his whole adult life. I asked him about Bernie’s progressive status and he said: “Yeah, that’s just it, he’s been consistent his whole life. I’d rather vote for someone who’s stood for something consistently than someone who’s pretending to be a conservative … whatever THAT is these days.”

When I asked people about Bernie’s age they talked about his passion and energy and the lack thereof from quarters like Hillary Clinton. I must say, having seen him, I was impressed by his energy level on stage. Sanders is an energetic and animated speaker. And remember, he’d been in Duluth earlier that day. Maybe he napped all the way from Duluth to St. Paul, but still. Regardless, here again, the support for Sanders seems to go a little deeper; it’s not just about his energetic stage presence. Several people spoke of his lifelong passion for positions that he’s fought for his whole political career. His supporters are looking at that consistency and passion and deciding it says something about his integrity and honesty.

His strength lies in his complete package

At the end of the day either the votes will be there for Sanders or they won’t. I do see some problems for Hillary Clinton. We don’t know yet how broad Bernie’s appeal can be, but he did well in Iowa on Monday. Once people are for him, they’re all-in and Clinton’s not going to peel them away. Furthermore, there is no magic bullet that can be fired at Bernie. His strength lies in his complete package, so even if one can slam one of his ideas (I think Clinton might get some traction with the idea that reopening the health-care debate is scary thing to do, for instance), you can’t sink the whole package.

It remains to seen how broad Sanders’ appeal may be. We can say for sure that he enjoys strong and deep support among his current supporters and his message resonates in depth on everything from climate change to health care. No matter how you look at it, Sanders is currently a force to be reckoned with. If he gets his message out, and it resonates on a much broader scale with voters, he could indeed “win.”

Paul Udstrand is a local writer and photographer; he blogs at Thoughtful Bastards.

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Comments (32)

  1. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 02/03/2016 - 09:28 am.

    The Washington Generals come to mind

    Bernie Sanders was recruited to run against Hillary so she wouldn’t have to debate herself during the coronation, er, primaries. He was selected because no other democrat wanted to waste their time pretending they were a serious candidate.

    The entry-polling at the Iowa caucus found that he was getting 84% of the 18-30 year old voters, to Hillary’s 14%. The fact that his socialist message is resonating to this degree with the young and the clueless has surprised everyone, but especially the Clintons.

    My theory is that at least half of his support is coming from democrats with integrity, assuming some still exist. They’re not pro-Bernie, they’re anti-Hillary. So the question becomes, will they vote for Clinton on election day or will they do what conservatives have done on recent election days and stayed home rather than support a candidate they don’t believe in.

  2. Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 02/03/2016 - 09:56 am.

    Young and aware

    Bernie is attracting the voters that should be the rule rather than the exception. They sound more informed and aware than the voters I’m hearing that are found at almost every other candidate’s rallies. This gives me even more hope for the future that there are young, thoughtful, and intelligent people getting more interested in politics and what it means to them. Even if Bernie fails in his bid, I hope these people stay engaged because they are what voters should be.

    • Submitted by Jim Million on 02/03/2016 - 10:59 pm.

      Well said…

      It is rather foolish for us to depend on the 60+ crowd to keep things going. The future from here appears to depend on rational public engagement by those who must make it better for themselves.

  3. Submitted by Matt Haas on 02/03/2016 - 10:04 am.


    It’s a wonderconservatives attract any young folks at all with the attitudes of some (parental indoctrination is a powerful tool it seems). But hey,carry on, those “clueless” folks have less and less need of geriatric ideals every day, and those putting them forth.

    • Submitted by joe smith on 02/03/2016 - 10:20 am.


      It is the young folks that believe the 1% have all the power and money, Bernie has convinced them that by giving him all the money and power (plus a couple hundred other DC elites- the .01%) it will all be better. He has convinced them top down big government works but trickle down free markets don’t (our current system is a polluted crony capitalism disaster). You have to be young to buy that!!

      • Submitted by Matt Haas on 02/03/2016 - 12:12 pm.


        I guess my 37 years might be considered young to some, but per usual conservatives have a knack for confusing age with wisdom. Perhaps you’ll let us know when supply side actually starts doing what you’ve believed it would for the last 3 decades, I suspect I will be well past Bernie’s age when I hear back (well actually I won’t, as eternity is a LONG time). If stubborn resistance to factual truth is a measure of being “knowledgeable” in conservative world, I’ll take the “clueless” every time.

        • Submitted by joe smith on 02/03/2016 - 04:39 pm.


          How’s that top down government working for you after 7 yrs? Let’s see Obama is responsible for 8.4 Trillion of the now 19 Trillion dollar deficit, lowest job participation rate in 40 years, middle class lost $3,000 per household in salary, manufacturing jobs are being drained from our shores at all time rates, stimulus package was a waste of 1T tax dollars, Obamacare is collapsing under its own weight of ineptitude on and on it goes….. Remember Obama promised to fix all the wrongs of Bush.

          Crony capitalism is what Bush, Obama and Clinton (both of them) excel at. Free market capitalism made this country great and if we close loopholes, regulations and fix broken tax code we can level the playing field and take the power out of DC. Of course you being a Bernie/Hillary guy, wants more power, money and influence in DC, some of us have had enough of the elites running our country and would like to see the government out of picking winners and losers with our tax dollars. Maybe then everyone would have a chance at success.

          • Submitted by Matt Haas on 02/03/2016 - 06:49 pm.

            Quite well, thanks for asking

            My wife and I made more money this year than we ever have. I got two raises at work this year, the result of increased demand (imagine that), and we’ve finally been able to pay down some of the debt accrued during the lean years of the conservative economic collapse. My oldest gets to start free all day kindergarten at a highly rated public school in the fall and couldn’t be more excited. Our healthcare premiums (on the same employer sponsored plan my wife has had for a decade or so) have only increased modestly since the passage of the affordable care act, after experiencing annual double digit percentage increases all through the Bush years. Better yet, when my younger son was born in 2013, I didn’t spend one second worrying that his congenital heart defect would mean the cancellation of our policy, or that upon reaching adulthood he’d be uninsurable. With our newfound financial stability we’re going to be able to purchase a new vehicle for the first time in 8 years, and with the reduction in childcare costs brought about by the start of our older sons schooling we’ll be able to purchase the camper we’ve always wanted (wow, demand driven productivity again, what a concept!) Not sure why the sky is always falling in conservative world, but out here in reality, the forecast varies.

          • Submitted by Matt Haas on 02/03/2016 - 06:58 pm.

            Now to your second point

            Conservatives seem to like sports analogies so let’s try this. Your view of crony capitalism is that of let’s say a football referee calling penalties on only one team, presumably after being paid off, yes? The liberal solution to this problem would be to punish the offenders for their cheating, fire the refs and hire new ones to properly uphold the rulebook. The conservative approach seems to be to fire all referees, allow the rules to be set by the team with the most wins, without telling the other teams what they are, then telling the crowd it’s their job to make sure no penalties are committed regardless whether they know how the sport ought to be played or that they aren’t watching the game. It seems less that they’d like a level playing field than they would prefer they be the ones allowed to cheat with impugnity. Not sure how that improves the lot of anyone but those wishing to cheat and exploit their fellow citizens, but then I’m not conservative and cannot pretend to understand how such thought processes come to be.

        • Submitted by Steve Titterud on 02/05/2016 - 11:53 am.

          Matt, I respect your views IN SPITE OF…

          …your youth!!

      • Submitted by Matt Haas on 02/03/2016 - 12:18 pm.

        Oh and btw

        Your “polluted crony capitalist disaster” is exactly as envisioned by all those “knowledgeable” conservatives you’vs supported through the years. The young certainly cannot help the fact that so many of their elders were naive enough to believe that conservatism was gonna work out any but the chosen few. I expect they simply consider the lives of the boomer generation a good “teachable lesson” on how NOT to run a society. Thankfully those of us in less demographically dominant cohorts will be the better for it.

        • Submitted by Jim Million on 02/04/2016 - 09:07 pm.


          Reads right out of the Big D campaign literature.

          I would not bet on being the better for it. You seem perfectly situated to be one of those paying for this.
          Check out parts of the Euro Zone.

          My nephew is about your age, caught between Late Gen X and Early Millennial.
          Old enough to still care about stuff, not young enough to not care much at all.

          • Submitted by Matt Haas on 02/05/2016 - 10:18 am.

            Perfectly situated

            Your point being? Of course I will be paying, such is the responsibility of those blessed by good fortune. Support for those who paved the way for our success, and a better world for those who come after. I truly believe there really isn’t as much of a difference in mindset between the young and aged as you believe. Rather, people are who they are, and will always be, their expression of their true ideals being influenced by circumstance along the way. The selfish and greedy always were, but in their younger lives may have found themselves constrained by a need to conform and gain influence, hard to do when you step on all those around you. As they age and gain power and prestige those innate traits come to the fore as their reliance on others diminishes. The truly altruistic never lose that ideal, no matter their age.

      • Submitted by Richard Helle on 02/03/2016 - 01:33 pm.

        Facts are inconvenient things

        Politifact gives Senator Sanders a “Mostly True” rating on his statement that the top 1% owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90%. Those young folks are correct then, believing the top 1% have almost all the money.

        158 families have contributed nearly half of the early campaign money for the presidential race this year. That translates to a lot of influence for a pretty small group so I think you could say those young folks are correct believing the top 1% have a disproportionate amount of power, if not all.

        Now, moving on to your next points. I’ve seen a lot of Senator Sander’s speeches, going back to his early days in Congress and I have never heard him advocate anyone should give him “all the money and power”, in fact quite the opposite. He has been remarkably consistent with his message for over 40 years. This is our country and we all should have a say. The current rates of wealth inequality are unsustainable and, let’s call it a market adjustment, is required. Senator Sanders has repeatedly said, “It is not just about elected Bernie Sanders for president, it is about creating a grassroots political movement in this country.” The Oligarchy has had their time and we now see the results of their uncontrolled greed. I’m not sure if Senator Sanders will win the presidency but I think it’s safe to say, the revolution starts now.

        • Submitted by joe smith on 02/03/2016 - 05:13 pm.

          Richard, when you raise taxes and more money goes to DC who is in charge of that money? The 3 branches of Government make laws, distribute money and enforce the laws. It would be Bernie and 550 elected officials with their hands on 3-5 Trillion in tax revenues (must raise taxes to give free stuff away). Do you think money mysteriously appears in DC from the tooth fairy? It is our hard earned tax dollars he wants. Bernie is calling for an out and out top down socialist society. Newsflash: that means he and 550 of his buddies get to spend your hard earned tax dollars. Bernie has never held a private sector job, like so many of the elected folks you want to entrust more money to. Very trusting of you. Bernie tells you that in every speech if you listen. He’s telling you he will spend your money better than you and way better than those evil business folks (who employ Americans) he loves to bash. Take a look at Venezuela and all the other socialist utopias, power goes straight to the top… not too rosy for regular folks.

          When all the money, power and influence is shifted to DC in order for Bernie to fix all the ills and give all the free stuff away who will have the power? You, me or Bernie? No one is disputing 1% owns most of the money, (at least they earned it) my beef is you want to give the .001% (Bernie & buddies) my money.

          • Submitted by Richard Helle on 02/03/2016 - 08:22 pm.

            Who will have the power

            “Who will have the power” is the big question isn’t it. Who will control our lives and daily activities? Do we want a duly elected body, made up of 3 separate branches, each with very specific rules and regulations regarding their duties and administration, subject to a performance review every 2 years by the election of every citizen of the United States of America over the age of 18 or the richest 0.1% on the planet to have that control. There’s your choice.

      • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 02/04/2016 - 02:27 pm.

        Eternal Youth

        “It is the young folks that believe the 1% have all the power and money . . .” Well, thank you. The only other person who even obliquely calls me “young” is a nattily dressed panhandler one used to see around town (“Excuse me, young man . . .”).

        Of course, it’s not literally true that the 1% has ALL the money. The richest 1% have merely 38% of all wealth in the US, which is more than the bottom 90% owns. Worldwide, they have somewhat more than 50% of the wealth.

        As for political power, we’ll have to check in with Wally and Beaver Koch (“What about George Soros?” came the reflexive reply).

  4. Submitted by John Deitering on 02/03/2016 - 10:06 am.

    anti Hillary?

    I disagree with Mr Tester…I am not anti-Hillary at all, and I would fight like hell for her if she is the nominee. I just think Bernie is a better choice for this 70 year-old guy.Bernie is the best candidate for my grandchildren.

  5. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 02/03/2016 - 10:30 am.

    Not Anti-Hillary

    These Bernie supporters were clearly issue oriented, not personality oriented. Very few were anti-Hillary, they’re just pro-Bernie. It’s pretty widely understood that most of Sanders supporters would vote for Hillary IF she earns the nomination, but they want Bernie to win the nomination and they’re going to vote for him. Hillary’s name didn’t actually come up very often during my conversations, and for his part Sanders didn’t mention her at all by name during his entire speech. I spoke with around 25 people over the course of an an hour and fifteen minutes. In all those conversations there was just one couple that responded: “Because he’s not Trump and he’s not Hillary” when asked why they were supporting Sanders. Again, that’s not a scientific survey but I think it reflects the general mood.

    • Submitted by Joe Musich on 02/03/2016 - 07:04 pm.

      Nice write Paul !

      No ifs,and, Nors or buts! Just an accurate report of what that experience gave those there. I walked away more hopeful for the future then I have been in a long time. Probably decades. It is not just Bernie and maybe it is not even accurate to call it the Bernie experience. But something is happening here, to borrow a portion of a lyric. The egg is hatching, the flower blooming, etc.

  6. Submitted by Bill Gleason on 02/03/2016 - 10:46 am.

    Thank you, Paul

    for writing an interesting piece about what makes Bernie tick. It was very helpful for a pragmatic Clinton supporter. Most of us will, indeed, vote for Bernie should he be the nominee, even though we don’t agree with everything he says. This also goes for Clinton. Either of them would be preferable to what is on the table now for the Republicans.

    The difference between Democrats and Republicans (at least conservatives) seems to be that Democrats will vote for the best candidate available, whereas Republicans (at least conservatives) will stay home and not vote for anyone if they can’t find someone they believe in …

    Let’s hope that this is the case.

  7. Submitted by Steve Titterud on 02/03/2016 - 11:53 am.

    It’s in part about the future vs. the past.

    Mr. Sanders not only had that huge margin in the 17-30 age group, he also had a big margin in the 30-44 age group as well.

    So Clinton’s “win” came through her pull with the over-45 set.

    I see the young as very smart and observant, not at all swallowing the usual pre-digested political Pablum that is Mrs. Clinton’s specialty. The GOP seems to have quite the inventory of this material as well in their warehouse of ideas.

    So whether Sanders can prevail or not, it would seem the young have shown they must be dealt with. Simply manipulating her messaging – no doubt the Clinton campaign’s solution to this problem – isn’t going to cut it. Why? The young don’t believe what she says!!

    I wouldn’t bet the farm that all these folks are going to simply flip to Clinton if she prevails. She’ll have to make substantial campaign promises that she has no intention of keeping, and even that isn’t going to work.

  8. Submitted by carter meland on 02/03/2016 - 12:37 pm.

    Defining Progressive

    My hat’s off to that 17 year old and his concise and spot-on definition of what being progressive means. He’s clearly an ill-informed know-nothing–clueless about the electoral process, the subtleties of political ideology, and likely blinded by all the “free” stuff Bernie is dangling in front of his face, or maybe–given the insight with which he responded to Paul’s question about “what does progressive mean”–he is clued in on the process, clued in on the direction of the contemporary economy and sees Sanders as a candidate who would, in the tradition of the great expanders of liberal agendas of the New Deal and post-WW2 era, press to expand individual rights and security against the vagaries intrinsic to the chaotic economy of contemporary capitalism. Maybe he’s thinking about others in his community as people, not just in terms of how well they serve the economy. Stupid kid. Er, scratch that, I hope that kid ends up running for office when he’s of age. We need intelligence like that.

    Campaigns like Bernie’s wake up young folks and middle age folks and old folks to the potential of US democracy (notice I didn’t say economy). They make people see, as that 17 year old said, beyond the status quo–which at this juncture accepts economic inequity and political/social disenfranchisement as desirable. It makes people see how democracy can get us beyond that. Thanks to Paul for bothering to talk to the people at the rally, rather than speculating as to what motivates Bernie’s supporters.

  9. Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 02/03/2016 - 10:15 pm.


    Nice piece. Unfortunately, Mr. Udstrand forgot to ask those young kids if they know what socialism is and see if they know that, or how much they pay in taxes and if they wanted to pay more…

    • Submitted by Phil Dech on 02/04/2016 - 12:04 pm.

      I suspect

      that Republicans are particularly challenged regarding the definition of socialism, as evidenced by the fact that they have been trying to pin that label on Obama the last 7 years.

      • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 02/05/2016 - 03:56 pm.

        The Definition

        For Republicans, “socialism” means “everything I don’t like.” I remember reading a letter to the editor back in the early 80s that described an economy vehicle as a “socialist 25 mpg car.”

        It’s just like Old Muley’s Roundhouse, from SCTV.

    • Submitted by Todd Hintz on 02/04/2016 - 12:21 pm.

      Socialist Results

      Considering that the socialist healthcare plan has the potential to cut our costs in half, I would say people stand to save money with Bernie, not cost more. Wouldn’t you like an extra $4000 in your pocket each and every year?

  10. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 02/04/2016 - 08:18 am.


    It’s worth noting that in one poll 43 of likely Iowa voters described themselves as Socialist. If you want to know what Sanders means when he calls himself a socialist you can find that on his website. My impression from the Sanders rally is that these supporters are simply not afraid to deploy more robust public options such as Medicare for All. You can describe such policies as socialist if you want but nobody seems to be supporting them because they’re socialist, they just think those policies makes sense, and if you want to call it socialism so be it.

    One thing is clear, Bernie has never advocated tearing up the constitution and converting our liberal democracy into a “Socialist State”. I’ve known some socialists who do advocate that, but Bernie and his supporters don’t fall into that category. Bernie, and the people I talked to believe in our constitution and liberal democracy and want to make changes completely within our constitutional framework.

  11. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 02/04/2016 - 10:31 am.

    We did talk about taxes

    Space doesn’t always permit EVERYTHING you might have to write.

    The people I talked to weren’t looking for tax cuts, and they tended to view tax cuts and promises for tax cuts with suspicion. Beyond that they all agreed with Bernie’s claim that the wealthy and corporations aren’t paying their fair share of taxes. And finally most people didn’t have a problem with increasing their own tax burdens as long as it promotes progress.

  12. Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 02/04/2016 - 07:33 pm.


    Mr. Dech, Republicans were trying to say that Obama is moving our country towards Socialism by expanding government programs. Those who went beyond that were wrong. By the way, there were other than presidential elections in 2010 and 2014.

    Mr. Adler, socialist healthcare in the Soviet Union could have been cheap but it was terrible – as an immigrant from there I can attest to that. But even savings are highly questionable…

    Mr. Udstrand, I am sure you are correct and people are supporting Sanders’ policies not because they are supporting socialism but because they like the policies. However, that is where my question came in: do they realize that many of those policies are socialist and never really worked? And sure, Bernie does not want a real revolution but most things he wants to accomplish will happen without one. And again, yes, those people were OK with increasing their taxes (in their minds, minimally) to achieve progress (what is that anyway?) because they think that most of that will be paid for by billionaires… but that is a fiction that they don’t understand.

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