When Bernie Sanders spoke to a packed arena in Madison, Wisconsin, he broke records for crowd attendance. Ten thousand people showed up—the largest gathering for any candidate in the presidential race thus far. In contrast, Hillary Clinton drew 5,000, Jeb Bush drew 3,000, and Donald Trump paid actors to make him look mildly less pitiful.
So why would Bernie Sanders, a self-described socialist in a country that fears socialism, and by all accounts an under-dog, be hitting it so big with the young folk?
1. He's not your conventional Democrat.
Hillary Clinton is the favorite to win: she's a paragon of the Democratic establishment, a dynasty candidate that has been in power and the public eye for decades. And young people, because they tend to distrust the establishment, don't respond to that as well. "Conventionality" is not their cup of tea.
Sanders, meanwhile, is relatively independent from the Democratic Party. He was literally an Independent until he changed his registration so that he could run in the Democratic primary.
2. He's much more liberal than Clinton.
Sanders' policies are more in line with the ideals of the youth, which tend to skew more liberal—more so than Clinton's do. Sanders voted against the Iraq War, which Clinton voted for. He was one of very few Congress members who voted against the Patriot Act, which allowed for greater government surveillance of the people. The list goes on.
3. He's not catering to millionaires and more moderate voters just so that he can win
Obama and Clinton, to varying extents, both appealed actively to millionaire fundraisers and less liberal Democrats. This is part of what allowed them to win. Sanders isn't willing to compromise his policies for votes. Young people—few of whom are millionaires and many of whom are fiercely liberal—respond well to such dogged principles.
4. He cares about youth issues, like few other candidates do
Sanders' intention to make stage colleges and public universities free has, predictably, won him favor with the group that suffers most from college expenses and ongoing loan headaches. He's also dedicated to resolving the issue of youth employment.
“I will appoint people to deal with the issue of youth unemployment, which we don’t talk about at all. Youth unemployment in this country, for the African American kids is over 50%, for Hispanic kids over 30% and the same for white kids.”
5. He's an underdog—and young people feel like underdogs, too
Most young people are still struggling—financially and otherwise. Sanders' surprise popularity is heartening for them. He is, in a way, spiritually kindred.
Clinton is still likely to win, because the youth vote alone isn't enough. But Sanders' popularity is meaningful—and a sign of progress—nonetheless.