A self-described democratic socialist, fierce critic of Wall Street and social inequality, 74-year-old Bernie Sanders is not the typical U.S. presidential candidate.
But this year’s oldest Democratic candidate, who vows to make college tuition free if elected president, has the most support of the youngest voters. Ariel Anderson, a 24-year-old college student who resides in San Diego, California, is worried about her student debt loans and the country’s healthcare system.
A long-time Sanders supporter, Anderson said she thinks millennials back Sanders because they have grown up in a digital age and are fully aware of social disparities. "I would like to see the cost of university fees decrease -- we all know that countries with free education exceed far more than the U.S.," Anderson said.
"I would like the annual minimum wage to rise without the cost of living going up," she said. "Stop keeping the poor, poor! Give the poor room to move up!," she wrote in an email response to Anadolu Agency.
With a large turnout among younger voters Monday night for the first contest in the election cycle, Sanders narrowly lost to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton by two-tenths of a percent in the Iowa caucus.
Of the 30,000 Democrats under the age of 30 who participated, 84 percent voted for Sanders while Clinton managed just 14 percent of the demographic.
Sanders’ popularity among young voters is, in part, a result of frustration with the political establishment and the economic reality for the majority of Americans, according to observers.
If president, Sanders pledges to reduce income and wealth inequality by demanding large American corporations pay their fair share of taxes, among other things.
He also plans to tax Wall Street speculators, whom Sanders claims have caused millions of Americans to lose their jobs, homes and life savings.
Eddie Vega, a 24-year-old part-time administrative worker, says he will vote for Sanders on June 7 in California because he believes the Vermont senator clearly explains his agenda and backs it up unlike other candidates.
On the foreign policy front, Sanders stands in stark contrast to his Democratic rival and Republican candidates by advocating limited military action and using war as a last resort. He wants a coalition of Muslim nations, with American support, to fight Daesh on the ground.
"The youth has grown up and seen what war has done in these last couple of years to this country," Vega said. "They are no longer intimated (sic) by rhetoric scare tactics used by politicians in the past."
"Another reason has to do with education ... many of recent graduates are in debt over their college tuitions," Vega said. "Sanders has solutions to prevent problems like this, he has support due to his ability to talk about real domestic issues, rather than avoid them like other candidates have."
While receiving absolutely no money in campaign funds from super PACs, unlike Clinton, Sanders has criticized the election system and characterized the American economy as "rigged".
Super PACs are independent committees allowed to raise unlimited sums of money from corporations in support of political candidates.
"It's outrageous that in the industrialized world, the United States is No. 1 in billionaires and No. 1 in childhood poverty," Sanders, who promises to break up the big banks, tweeted Thursday.
Not surprisingly, support for Sanders is not unanimous.
While some of the largest corporations criticize Sanders for creating what they say is a "dangerous" environment for business, other critics argue Sanders will not be able to effect real change under the current political system.
Brandy Cyrus, a 26-year-old student in library science, says she will not vote for Sanders or any other candidate because Washington does not represent the interests of working people in America.
"Young people are saddled with incredibly high amounts of education debt while they face a bleak job market where their skills are undervalued and overlooked," Cyrus said. "Bernie Sanders pays lip service to these issues while simultaneously defending and praising people like Hillary Clinton who have spent their careers creating and strengthening the policies that uphold the very system that the youth rail against," she said.
Cyrus said the only way Americans can bring change is by creating a party independent of Washington that focuses on actual issues and that doesn’t bend to the will of the rich.
"I won't be casting a vote for another politician that puts a smile on American political beast," she said.