“When has a contested primary ever really left the party in a better shape than it was before the primaries started?”
Now that the Democratic National Convention has concluded with Hillary Clinton making history as the first woman to win a major political party’s nomination for president, the contentiousness of the primary process still lingers in the minds of many young people in the United States.
As young Democrats speculate over whether the primaries were equitable and democratic, the IPF and the Roosevelt Institute spoke to young people about the conduct and efficacy of the primary process and how they feel about the upcoming general election. Overall, young voters appeared to be polarised over the fairness of the primary.
“I do not feel that the primary particularly strengthened the Democratic Party,” said Wesley Chrasbasz, a fourth year student at Connecticut College. “If anything, it’s drawn a pretty deep wedge between the progressive and moderate wings of the party. But when has a contested primary ever really left the party in a better shape than it was before the primaries started?”
However, a few questions lingered on Wesley’s mind: Do candidates leave the ring unharmed? Do young democrats feel like the Democratic Party is stronger coming out of it?
Almost half of the young people we spoke to offered a bold analysis for the division created within the party, while others suggested an electrifying message of unity. When asked if the Democratic Party was stronger coming out of its primary, Alejandro Urruti said: “Absolutely not,” before adding:
“This election highlighted the divide that exists within the left between conservative and progressive liberals, as well as a very strong generational divide when it comes to the party’s priorities and vision for its future.”
Meanwhile, Sade Ayinde from the University of Maryland, had a different view. According to Sade, there is a definite sense of a “united front” with Hillary as the Democratic nominee: “For lack of the better term, I’d argue that others would say that it was a united front with a main goal of defeating Trump, versus as a symbolic reference or show of support to Democratic values.”
Fairness and democratic practices
Emma Horst-Martz, a member of the Roosevelt Network, found the Democratic primary “fraught with undemocratic practices”, which she said have “plagued” the US political system for years. Emma openly attacked the candidates for accepting money from super PACs, noting that it put candidates who rely on crowdfunding at a major disadvantage.
She also criticised the scorn of media attention and the impact that this was having on the US election:
“The media attention on Clinton and Trump from the beginning took much needed exposure away from other candidates and reflects this country’s deeply rooted two party system.”
However, Enzo Cerutti saw things differently, accepting the system as “the nature of the beast”. For him, it remains “logical” that Clinton would be favoured by the institution over “the outsider”, given her representation of the Democratic Party throughout her career.
Hillary Clinton: The lesser of two evils?
While many young people see Clinton as the true guardian of American democracy and prosperity, others have told us that, for them, she is simply a lesser of two evils. The majority of young people want Trump to lose “big”, which means that even those who don’t see eye-to-eye with her views are hoping for her victory. Alejandro said:
“As a young Democrat, I can say that I don’t see her as a representative of my values or those of my Democratic, young friends… To me, she’s unrepresentative in that there’s seemingly little congruence between word and action.”
Sarah Rakin, a student at Connecticut College, agreed that Clinton is not the right candidate. She stated that Sanders would have better represented the views of many Democrats and believes he would have created a “political revolution”. Meanwhile, Emma revealed that other young Democrats were turning to candidates such as the Green Party’s Jill Stein:
“[Young people] feel that Clinton is too conservative to represent them appropriately. I think all Democrats are feeling enormous pressure to support Clinton out of fear for Trump.”
However, one young person did stand up for Clinton. Pullin noted:
“In a time of extreme divisiveness we need a mature, responsible, battle-tested leader who isn’t an ideological crusader and knows how to sit down with opponents from the other side and get things done for people.”
The future of the Democrats
So overall, are young Democrats optimistic for their country’s future?
Alejandro remained optimistic for both the future of this nation, and the future of the Democratic Party. He said: “Civil rights seem to be moving forward and the faults that exist on both sides of the aisle are deepening as we collectively realise that political binaries are not conducive to more nuanced differences of opinion.”
However, Sade provided a slightly different conclusion. While she remained sceptical about the future of her country, she was optimistic about the direction the Democratic Party was headed in, giving credit to the young leaders who have participated in the primary process and heavily influenced Clinton’s platform. She said:
“I am surrounded by so many young activists and future leaders who hope to shape and contribute to our country’s policies as we know it.”
Ultimately, there seems to be a significant amount of optimism resting upon the horizon of our nation. However, the question remains as to whether the Democratic Party or the GOP can maintain that. The majority of young Americans appear to believe that despite the existence of social unrest, the economy and employment rate continue to endure amongst other things. As Pullin concluded:
“Our problems are causes of cultural and geographical divisions, which gloss over the fact that we’re still a united country full of Americans that have kept the union together through government crisis, Civil War, a Great Depression, racial unrest, and terrorism.”