In May, Lydia Tsao, a self-described LGBT activist, supported Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination when the former secretary of state announced her candidacy via social media.
“I had never heard of Bernie Sanders before — I just knew that he was a socialist,” Tsao said. “I didn’t really care for him.”
During summer break, however, her friends persuaded her to support Sanders, a 74-year old senator from Vermont and self-identified democratic socialist who is widely considered a serious contender for the Democratic nomination. Tsao, a psychology junior, is now an organizer for political student organization Students for Bernie, and is actively involved in campaigning for him on campus.
Tsao said Sanders’ progressive record drew her away from Hillary Clinton. It had little to do with gender, she said.
“What really drew me to him was his longtime support for the LGBT community,” Tsao said. “He was supporting gay rights before Hillary Clinton.”
Tsao’s support for Bernie Sanders is indicative of a larger trend of young female voters favoring Sanders over Clinton in the 2016 presidential election. A recent Wall Street Journal/NBC poll showed 64 percent of female voters under 45 backed Bernie Sanders, while just 35 percent backed Hillary Clinton. In the New Hampshire primary, 82 percent of young female voters voted for Sanders.
“[Clinton’s] message resonates more with more mature female voters,” government professor Sean Theriault wrote in an email. “Young women do not see their gender as more distinctive than their age, at least at this point in the campaign.”
Assistant government professor Bethany Albertson said Sanders has won over more young voters in general because the election is driven more by ideology than by experience.
“They want the candidate who shares their values, and they see Sanders as more consistent with their values,” Albertson said. “They’re less concerned with experience.”
Feminist icons Gloria Steinem and Madeleine Albright have suggested women have a duty to support Clinton based on their gender. These comments have not helped Clinton persuade young voters to support her, Albertson said.
“I think that attitude isn’t helpful,” Albertson said. “It’s so important to get young people involved in politics, and I’m more enthused about that and less enthused about criticizing the ways in which they are forming their political opinions.”
Sonia Woiton, a government junior who volunteers for Hillary for America, said young women have been widely casting their support for candidates based on policy issues, and not on gender.
“I think people who don’t support Hillary — especially young girls — it’s not because she’s a woman,” Woiton said. “It’s because they don’t agree with her policy stances or don’t think she’s an inspiring candidate.”
Sanders still has to win over minority coalitions beyond young women — and young people in general — to win the Democratic primary, Albertson said.
“Young people are less likely to vote, and that historically has been the case, and those differences are magnified when it comes to primaries and caucuses,” Albertson said. “When we think of stereotypical young persons supporting Sanders, we’re tending to be thinking of someone who’s white — and that’s not always the case, but it becomes really important when you’re thinking about how Sanders is going to play and court young voters.”