Sanders vs Warren: Who Holds the Student Vote, and Why?

The way to a politically active, New York City college student’s heart is through rallies and/or protests, something the 2020 Democratic nominees are well aware of. 

On Monday, Sept. 16, Senator Elizabeth Warren gathered more than 20,000 people in Washington Square Park for a rally, according to the Washington Post. Then, nearly a month later, Senator Bernie Sanders held a New York based rally of his own that surpassed Warren’s in numbers. With nearly 26,000 supporters in the crowd, according to Gothamist, Sanders took the stage at Queensbridge Park on Saturday, Oct 19.

According to a Business Insider article, Warren, Sanders, and Joe Biden are the three most likely candidates to win against Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential race. With his moderate political policies and alleged electability, Biden is the most popular among older voters. A poll conducted by Quinnipiac University in July 2019 shows that 28% of Democrats aged 50 and over would rank Biden as their first choice for the Democratic presidential nominee, whereas only 17% of Democrats under 50 rank Biden first.

In fact, an article written in FiveThirtyEight cites polls that show “that younger Democrats tended to prioritize nominating a candidate whose positions on issues were closest to their own over a candidate who they believed had the best chance of defeating Trump.” In this case, this candidate would be the familiar, politically moderate Biden.

However, there is a certain distaste for Biden among young voters that goes beyond his politics, and it is likely due to his rocky history with sexual misconduct, according to NBC News. This leaves Sanders and Warren as the young peoples’ candidates of choice, and the vote is split - especially in downtown Manhattan, where liberal college students run rampant.

“I am a Sanders fan through and through, but I also think Warren is absolutely incredible and so smart and charismatic. I truly love both of them and think that either of them would be an amazing president,” said Rachel Bell, a nineteen year old sophomore at New York University majoring in sociology and gender studies.

Sanders earns points among young voters for his continued dedication to progressive values. His views haven’t wavered for most of his political career - and young people have noticed.

“I support Sanders because his progressivism has been consistent over decades,” said Cecilia Innis, a sophomore Liberal Studies major at New York University. “I just watched a compilation the other day of his speeches over 30 years, and he’s basically always been pro-working class, pro-black and brown folk, and pro-LGBTQ,” as compared to other politicians who she said have only addressed these issues once they became hot topics.

Throughout his political career, Sanders has become known as a consistent, unwavering figure who places social justice above all else. 

“I think Sanders is a true progressive… the other Democrats aren’t going to break everything down and change things the way that he wants to change things,” said Ryanne Salzano, a Journalism + Design senior at the New School.

Supporters admire his diligence and character, something that has been evident in the debates.

“I think when you have Republicans trying to undermine democracy, you need someone who's going to fight for you, and I think Bernie is a fighter. I don't think he backs down,” said Siri Chilikuri, an interdisciplinary science major in her fourth year at the New School. 

Sanders’ large support base, which has grown significantly and become more diverse since he first ran for president in 2016, according to Vox, came through to his Queens rally.

“It was so packed you couldn't even see how far back the crowd went,” said Bell. “It was so moving to see so many people rally around someone who has been seen as so radical in the past.”

Warren’s rally was moving, as well. Its location of Washington Square Park, which serves as a quad, backyard, and meeting spot all in one for many university students, is what sealed the deal on her connection to students, according to NYU sophomore Jonathan Schatzberg.

However, there was a separate motivation for choosing the park as the location for her rally. Warren held the rally in Washington Square Park to commemorate the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in 1911.

“She basically made a connection between the women who were locked into the factory that died because of male corporate greed… to today’s white, male-dominated patriarchal system that the United States has had forever and how that system is done with. It’s in the past, and it’s time to move forward,” said Schatzberg.

Furthermore, those who voiced their support for Warren admired her attention to detail and concrete plans for getting things done. 

“I am a very detail oriented person, so I really like that Warren has released plans for things. I think it's really important for a candidate to show where they are on the issues and not just make statements about things that they support without any backing,” said Izzy Verdery, a sophomore in the Global Studies program at New York University. “I like her specificity, as opposed to grandiose promises.”

“Warren has plans for everything. That’s her motto, ‘She has a plan for this, she has a plan for that,’” Schatzberg said. “I think that Warren is on the rise, and her time is now.”