When Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., ended his presidential campaign earlier this month, former Vice President Joe Biden became the presumptive Democratic nominee. Sanders, a longtime liberal firebrand, subsequently endorsed Biden, who had pitched himself as the moderate and reliable option throughout the primary. With the field of Democratic candidates narrowed down to one, some progressive students aren’t thrilled with the choice before them.
In interviews with The Daily, various University of Michigan students said they were disappointed and unsure whether to back Biden in the general election come November.
LSA junior Arden Shapiro, campus corps leader for Students for Bernie, said Sanders’s decision to exit the race was disheartening but said she understood why he ended the campaign.
“Honestly, it did come as kind of a surprise and it was a bit disappointing,” Shapiro said. “However, I trust that he made the best decision for himself and his constituents and his movement, given the current circumstances we’re in and his desire to defeat (President) Donald Trump in the general election.”
The official account for Students for Bernie at UMich tweeted they are not endorsing or supporting Biden, breaking with Sanders himself.
In an April 8 video announcing the end of his presidential bid, Sanders emphasized the importance of getting Biden elected and beating Trump in the general election.
“Then together, standing united, we will go forward to defeat Donald Trump, the most dangerous president in modern American history,” Sanders said. “As I hope all of you know, this race has never been about me.”
Shapiro commented on the tweet, explaining they do not believe Biden’s policies are progressive enough to earn their endorsement.
“Even though Senator Sanders himself did endorse the former vice president, speaking as kind of a leadership cohort together and reflecting on the values of our organization and our goals, we decided that at this time, it would not be possible for us to endorse Joe Biden,” Shapiro said. “We do not believe his platform adequately addresses the issues that this country is currently facing and will certainly be facing in the future in light of the current economic depression. We don’t believe that his stance on climate appreciates the dire reality of climate change that we will be experiencing within the next decade.”
Not all students were jarred by Sanders’s decision. Engineering junior Omar Al-Ejel supported Sanders in the primary and said he was not surprised when the campaign ended. Al-Ejel said Biden benefited institutional support as he continued winning primary delegates, primarily among the Democratic National Committee and fellow presidential challengers former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., both of whom endorsed Biden after suspending their own campaigns.
“I wasn’t surprised at that point since I knew what was coming after the whole media and DNC pile-on against Bernie started to manifest in Biden shooting up in the polls and him winning states,” Al-Ejel said.
LSA sophomore Eman Naga was also a Sanders supporter. She said she wasn’t surprised either.
“I expected it, but that didn’t make it hurt any less,” Naga said. “I think I internally placed too great an emphasis on electoral politics and viewed Sanders as a political savior which wasn’t fair, but his campaign undoubtedly paved the path forward and it’s up to his supporters to walk it.”
In an interview with The Daily prior to a rally on The Diag on March 8, Sanders emphasized the success of his campaign in shaping the Democratic Party’s ideology through grassroots organizing. He also addressed the difficulty of getting younger voters to show up at the polls.
“Younger people are in fact the most progressive young generation in the history of this country, that’s your generation,” Sander said. “The problem is that it has historically been very hard to get young people to vote in large numbers. We’re making some progress.”
Drumming up support among young voters was key to Sanders’s electoral strategy, which ultimately fell flat when Biden won the Michigan primary, a state that was integral to Sanders’s campaign in 2016.
In the March interview, Sanders emphasized the importance of students participating in electoral politics.
“That’s why we’re here on the campus, that’s why we visit many campuses: to make it clear to young people that in a democracy they have an obligation to participate, that it’s not good enough to moan and groan about all the concerns you have, you’ve got to get involved and stand up for what you believe in, and that means participating in the political progress,” Sanders said.
Despite efforts from the Sanders camp to increase voter turnout among students, Biden swept every county in the state, including left-leaning Washtenaw, the home of the University’s flagship campus and the site of a get-out-the-vote rally with U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., that drew more than 10,000 attendees.
Shapiro said that, though Students for Bernie are not endorsing Biden, they understand many Democrats feel that Sanders supporters should vote for Biden in hopes of beating Trump.
“I speak on behalf of everyone in Students for Bernie when we say that we absolutely recognize the dangers that Donald Trump, his administration, as well as the Republican Party pose to our democracy and our citizens and in no way do we want to minimize that,” Shapiro said. “I really would ask that those who are not supporters of Bernie Sanders or Democratic Socialism or the progressive movement are not so quick to condemn our base and blame us for Trump’s ascendancy.”
Following Sanders’s announcement, former President Barack Obama released a video endorsing Biden. He also praised the progressive agenda of Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., while urging their supporters to vote for Biden despite their differing opinions in order to beat Trump.
“Of course Democrats may not always agree on every detail of the best way to bring about each and every one of these changes, but we do agree that they’re needed,” Obama said. “And that only happens if we win this election.”
Biden has also received endorsements from former candidates and other moderate Democrats, such as former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg. Notably, Warren did not endorse Sanders, despite their similar progressive ideology, though she also did not endorse Biden until after Sanders dropped out.
LSA freshman Andrew Schaeffler, a student leader of Students for Biden, said he believes Sanders supporters should vote for Biden, as he is much more progressive than President Trump and will support policies closer to those of Sanders.
“Joe Biden will not only be the most progressive general election nominee, but he will presumably govern to the left if he can, especially with a Democratic House of Representatives, and potentially a Democratic Senate,” Schaeffler said. “It will be much easier to convince Joe Biden to support more progressive policies while in office than Donald Trump.”
Naga said Biden will need to earn her vote and explained Sanders and Obama’s endorsements of Biden did not convince her to support Biden.
“Sanders is doing what he needs to do to ensure a Democratic win in November,” Naga said. “I do wish he leveraged his endorsement and attempted to push Biden to the left rather than openly supporting him and his policies as they are now. I personally don’t care for Obama’s endorsement as he is behind the last-ditch effort to shut down the Bernie campaign and has problems in his political history.”
Al-Ejel agreed, saying he finds endorsements unpersuasive.
“Neither Bernie nor Obama’s endorsements matter to me,” Al-Ejel said. “I care about policy.”
Many Sanders supporters cite the recent sexual assault allegations against Biden as a reason they are hesitant to vote for him in November. Last year, Tara Reade, a former Senate staffer, first accused Biden of inappropriate touching, joining other women who have made claims of unwanted physical contact. On March 25, Reade accused Biden of sexual assault.
A spokeswoman for Biden said the allegations were false. Students for Biden did not comment on the allegations, noting the lack of a full investigation. Shapiro said Students for Bernie was “deeply concerned” about the allegations.
Naga said she was concerned about voting for Biden after the recent allegations and expressed frustration with a general election featuring Biden and Trump as the two major-party candidates.
More than two dozen women have accused Trump of sexual misconduct dating back to the 1970s. He has denied the allegations, but during the 2016 campaign, a tape surfaced of Trump bragging about forcibly groping women.
“It’s a morally hard pill to swallow to go and check his name on the ballot box as a suspected rapist and his immoral political background, just to attempt to stop another candidate with the same attributes,” Naga said. “I hate these choices.”
Schaeffler said Biden has already begun outreach to progressive Democratic voters in an attempt to earn their votes.
“Biden should absolutely continue to earn their vote by emphasizing his progressive values, and moving to the left on some issues, which he has already begun to do,” Schaeffler said. “He has adopted policies from Sen. Elizabeth Warren surrounding Social Security and bankruptcy reform and policies from Senator Sanders regarding eliminating student debt. These good faith efforts show that he is committed to earning his votes.”
Shapiro expressed frustration that Sanders was not able to have more success in the primary, but said she was happy about how far he was able to get a self-described Democratic Socialist.
“We’re grateful that Democratic Social candidates could make it that far in the first place in a mainstream primary,” Shapiro said. “We’re very excited for the future in that respect, continuing to bring our agenda and demand to the mainstream.”
Daily Staff Reporter Emma Ruberg can be reached at email@example.com.