Three Emojis or Less: Why Young Americans are Feeling the Bern

It’s a common trope that politics has been reduced to soundbites. Indeed, a study has already shown that the complexity of political speech has deteriorated significantly from the time of Abraham Lincoln (speaking at an 11th grade level) to today (Donald Trump speaks at a fourth grade level). But there’s good news in all of this. Bernie Sanders, who does not patronize young people by trying to speak what he thinks is their language, has been getting enormous levels of support from young people. In contrast, Hillary makes unsuccessful attempts to appear relatable by using celebrities, memes and listicles. In a positive development for America, the young people flocking to Bernie Sanders don’t need him to impress them with his command of memes.

Hillary’s likability problem comes from the fact that she is, objectively, out of touch. Secretary Clinton makes millions of dollars from her speeches to Wall Street banks, has a net worth in the tens of millions of dollars and lives in a mansion in tony Westchester County. Her daughter Chelsea was paid at a rate of several hundred dollars a second for her work at NBC’s Rock Center (billed as a rival to 60 Minutes). That Clinton got her job at NBC without any journalistic experience is surely the result of her parents’ influence (she has worked as an investment banker and management consultant). All of this is pretty impressive for a family who, according to Hillary, was “dead broke” when Bill Clinton left the White House (even though Hillary had already been sworn in a Senator, then as now a six figure job).

Bernie Sanders lives a life in complete contrast to the former Secretary of State (she was unable to gain the presidency in 2008 despite promoting rumors that then-Senator Barack Obama was not born in the United States). Senator Sanders made several thousand dollars from speeches last year, most of which he donated to charity. His son, Levi, is a social worker. When Larry David impersonated Sanders on Saturday Night Live, David claimed that in addition to not having a Super PAC, he did not even own a backpack.

Hillary’s elitist image has created likability problems for her, but her attempts to ameliorate her out of touch image have only backfired. Secretary Clinton was widely mocked after tweeting out a request for students to describe the problems of their student debt “in three emojis or less.” Clinton inflamed Black Twitter after posting a picture of her campaign logo redecorated in honor of Kwanza. Hispanic Twitter was not left out of the action though, as Clinton’s campaign website featured a listicle claiming that Hillary Clinton was “just like your abuela.” Although the campaign site changed the article to a list of things that Hillary Clinton “has in common with your abuela,” the damage had already been done and the hashtag #NotMyAbuela was trending within hours.

Even when Clinton was not engaging in racial pandering, her use of social media has come across as banal due to her use of celebrities and memes to promote herself. If one goes through Hillary’s tweets they will see why Slate described Clinton as speaking “like a millennial fan girl” along with obligatory references to celebrities like Lena Dunham (who took over Clinton’s instagram for a day) and Demi Lovato.

Bernie Sanders, by contrast, has adopted a different strategy. Despite his humble lifestyle, Sanders is 74 years old and the task of relating to young people is nevertheless an issue. However, Sanders has steered clear of pop culture and internet references. Sanders’ tweets are entirely about policy. Although all are less than 140 characters, they are far more than three emojis, and Sanders uses them to explain what he thinks about a given issue. A typical Sanders tweet reads like this: “Regardless of their income, we need to give our children a fair shot at attending college -college education tuition should be free for all.” These tweets do not capture the entirety of Sanders’ policies, which are naturally much more complex than what could fit in a tweet, but they explain where he stands on these issues and what frame of mind he has when addressing them.

To be sure, there are problems with many of Bernie Sanders’ policies. His proposal to deal with global warming, for example, will actually increase carbon emissions by shutting down nuclear power plants. But despite their flaws, Senator Sanders is at least willing to talk about his policies. He doesn’t need to be anyone’s abuela to show that he cares about young people.fa He’s been showing it for thirty years, and that’s worth more than a thousand words, or emojis.