On Tuesday, March 8th, Bernie Sanders shocked the media world with an astounding win in Michigan’s Democratic Primary. Many polls projected a Clinton win by upwards of 20 percentage points. According to statistics blog FiveThirtyEight, only one previous primary came even close to the degree of upset that Democratic Michiganders pulled off: that of the 1984 Democratic primary in New Hampshire.
While Mr. Sanders’ win in Michigan remains nearly three months in the rear view mirror, it says something powerful about the people of the state of Michigan. It sets an example for how community level mobilization on social media can be a huge impetus towards propelling Mr. Sanders to victory in next week’s California Democratic Primary.
Michigan is unique in part because of its geographical isolation and history. Surrounded by the Great Lakes in both the Lower and Upper Peninsula, Michigan’s 3,288 miles of coastline is more than any other state except Alaska. Additionally, Canada’s presence in the north combined with the disliked Ohio’s presence to the south means that Michigan operates under a landlocked fashion more than nearly any state in continental America.
Additionally, because the national media puts such a huge spotlight on the plight of Detroit, few outsiders understand or are aware of the amount of wealth, people, natural beauty, history, and heritage throughout the state of Michigan. Generally speaking, Michiganders are outgoing, friendly, and outspoken about their beliefs.
Particularly among the young voters in the state, a record turnout among young voters helped to reflect these qualities. According to Vox,
“Clearly, there was a breakdown in the models we used,” said Steve Mitchell, one of the many pollsters who projected Clinton up by more than 20 points in Michigan. “It looks like there were a lot more young voters than we thought, and they voted in stronger numbers for Bernie Sanders.”
A particularly dramatic example: One poll that put Hillary Clinton up by 28 points in the race expected voters ages 18 to 39 to make up only 8.9 percent of the electorate.
It turned out that 21 percent of Michigan’s primary electorate was ages 18 to 29, according to exit polling cited by Grossman. Voters ages 30 to 44 accounted for another 25 percent of the vote share.
Sanders won the youth vote by an 81-19 margin. In other words, this demographic — the one most favorable to him — ended up being a greater share of the electorate by about four times what had been expected.
How did such a strong youth turnout happen, you may ask?
It primarily has to do with the social media driven, grassroots organization that young people across the state took to encourage other young people to actually show up and vote that Tuesday. Through loud, constant, strategic, emotional, and timely posts in the week leading up to the day of the primary, many young people throughout Michigan’s large public universities (University of Michigan, Michigan State, Eastern Michigan, Western Michigan, Central Michigan, Oakland University, Wayne State, Northern Michigan) let their voices be heard on Facebook, Twitter, and beyond to affect the outcome of the primary in a way that had not been seen in the history of the United States of America.
Just as Donald Trump has used social media to win over the older audience, young people helped to drive the election from a bottom-up level in order to ensure that Mr. Sanders pulled off a historic upset in the state of Michigan. Since then, this win has been a huge impetus for Mr. Sanders’ subsequent primary victories in the mountain west and west coast.
As we look towards next Tuesday’s primary, young Californians have a choice. With 7.9 million registered Democratic voters, the under 40 crowd has a chance to make another historic statement in favor of Mr. Sanders’ relentless push towards the White House. The primary is projected to be close, and through pubic discussion and communal encouragement, if even 300,000 more voters than expected show up to vote in Mr. Sanders’ favor, this could very well be the difference in who wins this winner-take-all delegates state.
It’s up to you for once, California. Anyone who #FeelsTheBern should consider calling their friends in Michigan first to learn the best strategies for leveraging social media to pull off another unprecedented win.