In an effort to boost turnout among young voters, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) held a “national student town hall” meeting that was live-streamed at colleges and universities across the country, including to Arizona State University.
A throng of students gathered at ASU’s Tempe campus Wednesday evening to hear the Democratic presidential candidate speak via live telecast from George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. The gathering at ASU, hosted by the ASU chapter of Students for Bernie Sanders, was just one of about 250 similar events held in all 50 states.
Sanders touched on a number of issues through the night, including the high cost of college tuition, climate change,criminal justice system and income inequalities. He also revealed a plan to remove marijuana from the federal government’s list of outlawed drugs.
“Too many Americans have seen their lives destroyed because they have criminal records as a result of marijuana use. That’s wrong. That has got to change,” he said.
The Vermont senator also highlighted the billions of dollars that are spent every year “to lock people up” and said “instead of investing more money in jails and incarceration, we should be investing in jobs and education.”
He received the most applause from students when he spoke about his plan to make tuition free at four-year public colleges and universities.
“What I want to see happen in this country is that every kid in the fourth grade and the sixth grade know that if he or she does their homework, pays attention, does well in school that regardless of the income of their family, they will be able to get a college education,” he said.
The town hall is part of Sanders’ broader efforts to draw support from young people, a strategy that seems to be working.
A recent ABC News/Washington Post poll found that though Democratic front runner Hillary Clinton still leads among voters under 30 years old at 48 percent, Sanders has seen the biggest gains among young voters. An estimated 44 percent of voters ages 18-29 support Sanders, up from 31 percent in July.
Alexander Lofgren, a 26-year-old political science student who attended Wednesday’s event at ASU, said he thinks many young voters are attracted to Sanders because of the “authenticity” he evokes.
“I’ve been interested in politics since I was 7 years old…I can say with total honesty that Bernie Sanders is the most authentic candidate that I’ve ever seen,” Lofgren said. “What he’s talking about now, he’s been talking about for 20 plus years. And his views haven’t changed.”
Sanders also enjoys support from young voters like Anna Bettis, a 22-year-old pursuing a master’s degree in sustainable solutions at ASU. She was one of the voters whose question about climate change was aired during the first Democratic presidential debate earlier this month.
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“Climate change is something that I deeply care about, and it’s something I’m devoting my career to,” Bettis said, adding that she likes how Sanders has made climate change a top issue in his campaign.
Bettis also likes that Sanders has pledged to not accept money from super PACs and the rich: “That really sets him apart and makes me feel like he’s someone who would be looking out for the middle class.”
Manny Singh,19, who's pursuing an engineering degree at ASU, said he likes the senator zeal for campaign-finance reform, which he sees as “one of the biggest problems in American politics.”
He also described Sanders as “a candidate who is so genuine and cares so deeply about the fate of our country.”