Will Hispanic Millennials, Free College Turn the Tide for Bernie Sanders on Super Tuesday?

Election 2016
Posted By Derek Johnson on March 1, 2016 at 3:45 pm
Will Hispanic Millennials, Free College Turn the Tide for Bernie Sanders on Super Tuesday?

Much has been made of Senator Bernie Sanders’ (D-VT) strong showing among Hispanics in the Nevada caucuses. While former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (D) swept up more than 75 percent of the black vote, Sanders won a majority of Latinos. Sanders and Clinton are both fighting to attract the same voting coalition that President Barack Obama (D) rode to office: white coastal liberals combined with first-time young and minority voters. It is widely thought that whoever wins young and minority voters will win the nomination.

So far the results have been mixed, with most polls showing Clinton winning comfortably among nonwhites and Sanders winning large majorities of the youth vote. Tuition-free college is a centerpiece of Sanders’ campaign against income inequality, and there is evidence that the issue resonates not just with young people but young, millennial Latinos.

More young Hispanics aspire to go to college

According to the Hispanic Millennial Project, 46 percent of Hispanic millennials aspire to graduate from college, compared to 33 percent of non-Hispanic millennials. Those trends held true for graduate degrees as well.

College is becoming increasing routine for Latino students. According to U.S. Department of Education data compiled by the Arizona Chamber of Commerce, the percentage of 18-24-year-old Hispanics likely to enroll in college rose by 11 percent from 2000-2013 and is expected to rise by 27 percent from 2011-2022.

Tuition-free college is a powerful lure for a demographic that is just starting to view higher education as attainable but unaffordable. Hispanics make up nearly a quarter of students in two-year, for-profit universities. They make up just 17 percent of the country’s population but 28 percent of those below the poverty line, according to the Pew Research Center.

Clinton offers her own version of debt-free college, but the proposal isn’t as far-reaching, and there are questions about how much young voters trust her. In a memorable town hall exchange, Clinton addressed the concerns of a young questioner who asked why “quite a few” of his friends have the impression that she’s dishonest. Clinton blamed her political adversaries for creating a smear campaign to confuse and undermine her efforts to bring change for “the people who have been left out and left behind.”

“If you’re new to politics, if it’s the first time you’ve really paid attention, you go ‘oh my gosh, look at all this!’ and you have [ask] why are they throwing all that [at her]?” said Clinton in response. “Well, I’ll tell you why: because I have been on the front lines of change and progress since I was your age.”

Did Sanders Win the Young Hispanic Vote in Nevada?

In Nevada, Sanders (appeared) to come out the winner among Latinos, they Latinos make up nearly 28 percent of the population. He won 70 percent of Hispanic voters 45 and younger. So do the Nevada results mean that Clinton’s vaunted “firewall” of minority voters has lost one of its vital components?

Not exactly. The first thing to consider is that virtually all parties agree that the data being used are imprecise. The Nevada caucus process differs from traditional voting in important ways, the sample size is small (only 12,002 people casted ballots) and even the research firm that conducted the entrance polling used acknowledges its limitations.

As the Washington Post reported, Latino youths may be a majority but they are also among the least likely to show up at the polls. So if Sanders’ victory was due to Latino Millennials, it would mean that young Hispanics are voting at substantially higher rates than previous election cycles. With a slate of Republican candidates espousing new levels of anti-immigration language (and featuring two Cuban-American candidates) and the prospect of “tuition-free” and “debt-free” college, there is some evidence that this group will have a real impact on the race.

At the end of the day, it’s difficult to determine what the Nevada results actually mean. Sanders strength with millennial Hispanics could be a demographic game changer, but only if they show up to vote. Historically, they are one of the least likely groups to do so.

Will Sanders rally millennial Latino voters on Super Tuesday?

Older Latinos are much more likely to vote and they tend to lean towards Clinton. This anecdote from a Vox piece on the Latino vote is one of many examples of the age divide:

“A lot of older Latino people, it’s like, ‘Voy a votar por la Hillary [I’ll vote for Hillary],'” says Astrid Silva, a local DREAMer activist who endorsed Clinton in January. “Sometimes they’ll ask me, ‘Oh, somebody else is running?'”

If young voters sit out the 2016 Democratic primaries, Clinton’s firewall stands a good chance of holding. However, if “Bernie’s Revolution” takes hold among young millennial Latinos the same way Obama’s “Hope and Change” campaigns did, his candidacy becomes much more competitive as the contest moves today to states with substantially higher levels of nonwhite voters.

For more political coverage, see our special Election 2016 section.

Derek Johnson
Derek Johnson is a writer, journalist and editor based out of Virginia. He received a Master’s degree in Public Policy at George Mason University and a bachelor’s degree in Communication from Hofstra University.

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