Looking back on polling numbers for March of 2015 things were not looking good for presidential hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders. He was pulling in just 5 percent of democratic voters support nationally compared to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s dominating 60 percent. In a Dan Jones & Associates poll of Utah voters, Sanders wasn't even mentioned, but rather lumped into the “others” category.
Since then Sanders has steadily built a following in Utah. Recent polls showed Sanders leading 41 percent to 19 percent over Clinton among all Utah voters.
In voting events around the country Sanders has been doing well among millennial voters, something Utah has a lot of, making up one-third of the population. Mobilizing these young voters can be a challenge though, as Utah is among states with the lowest voter turnout in the country.
Sam Grenny, is trying to reverse that trend with his organization Utah Millennials for Bernie Sanders.
“My goal in creating this was to find a way to really get millennials to really engage in politics. Our generation has had a problem with that,” Grenny said.
In January Salt Lake City’s Kilby Court, concertgoers gathered to hear local musicians and lend their support to Sanders’ presidential campaign. The audience was composed of people of all ages, but the majority were millennials - people born between 1980 and 2000.
Grenny organized this event and “dorm storms” on the University of Utah, BYU and Westminster College campuses all through March. A millennial himself, Grenny describes his organization with the aplomb of a seasoned political activist.
“Utah Millennials for Bernie Sanders is a group dedicated to getting millennials to engage in the political process,” Grenny said. “Our first concrete objective is to get Bernie Sanders elected President of the United States, but beyond that what we’re interested in is engaging millennials in politics in order to affect progressive change.”
Another goal of the event is to register new voters. Millennials are often preceded by a notorious reputation for absenteeism on voting day. Yet Barack Obama was able to mobilize record numbers of millennials during his 2008 presidential run. And while democratic primary turnout has thus far been lower than in 2008, turnout among younger voters is actually on the rise. Grenny thinks he has the formula for getting more millennials to the polls.
“I am positive that people who are registered and who know that they are already included in the democratic process are far more likely to show up,” Grenny said.
Still, while getting millennials to “feel the Bern” may be easy, getting those same individuals to feel included in the democratic process may prove to be a monumental task. Grenny and his organization may have found a way to introduce the democratic process to younger voters and engage them on their own terms.
“What we’re trying to do is infuse some politics in what millennials already do,” Grenny said.
Whether Grenny’s initiative has paid off has yet to be seen, but with the Utah caucus next week on Tuesday March 22 we will soon find out. Bernie Sanders is also scheduled to speak at This Is The Place Heritage Park in Salt Lake City March 18 at 12:30.