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Why is Bernie Sanders’ socialist presidential campaign doing so well?

Senator Bernie Sanders pulled just ahead of the pack in the New Hampshire primaries this week. His campaign has drawn criticism for its socialist bent, but young people seem more drawn to Sanders’ promise of nationalized health care and federal student loan relief than ever.

So KIRO Radio’s Dave Ross called Derek Thompson, a writer at The Atlantic and host of the podcast Crazy/Genius.

Thompson wrote an article last week questioning why baby boomers fear a socialist agenda. Older Americans already live in a country that’s somewhat socialist, Thompson told Seattle’s Morning News. Maybe young people simply want the same perks.

“The federal government already guarantees single-payer health care to Americans over 65,” Thompson said. “Senior citizens also receive an income subsidy, called Social Security, which is literally socialism.”

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Progressive Democrats like Sanders or Senator Elizabeth Warren have campaigned successfully with young people on student loan forgiveness. Many older Americans have balked at the idea of the federal government providing debt relief.

But, Thompson said, the mortgage interest deduction in your tax code sounds … eerily similar.

“The average American homeowner is 55 years old, and the federal government every single decade gives back homeowners $800 billion in taxes paid by giving them the mortgage interest back through the tax code,” Thompson said.

The economist Ed Glaeser has likened these policies to ‘boomer socialism.’

Stop and ask yourself, Thompson said, do I like or dislike the socialist policies that already exist?

“These things do tend to be somewhat popular,” Thompson said. “[I]t’s so difficult for those over 65 to argue that their socialized health care doesn’t work.”

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According to recent polling from Quinnipiac University, about 54% of Democrats under 34 support Bernie Sanders. Only 6% in that same age group would vote for Joe Biden.

Sanders’ socialist agenda is a part of that, Thompson said. But 10 years ago, younger people leaned capitalist.

“Something has happened in the last 10 years,” Thompson said. “And I think it really starts with the Great Recession … the elevated unemployment rate and slow wage growth has particularly stung young people, who’ve had a really hard time starting their young adult lives.”

Between high student loan debt and the soaring expense of essential services like medical coverage, childcare, and housing, Thompson said, there’s a sense that capitalism has failed them.

“They need something else. Bernie Sanders is out there offering a compelling something else, and that’s why I think they are reaching for his message,” Thompson said. “I’m saying that the same way that modern American capitalism might have broken the process of growing old, it might be breaking the process of growing up.”

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