What follows is some unsolicited advice for the Sanders campaign.
Politico has an important piece on the downside of the extraordinary age bias in Sanders’ support. Like a teeter totter, the large advantage Sanders enjoys among younger voters is counterbalanced by his dismal showing among the older crowd. The article reviews voting breakdowns from the 2016 campaign and current poll results, and it shows that Sanders is not just behind among seniors, but way, way behind. His political strengths guarantee he will survive the winnowing of the twenty-odd 2020 pretenders, but sheer arithmetic suggests he will need to make significant inroads among older voters, something he hasn’t done up to this point, to overtake Biden—assuming of course Biden doesn’t overtake himself.
So how can he do this? The first thing to realize is that he doesn’t need absolute majorities among retirees and near-retires, just enough support so his advantage among the non-elderly isn’t erased. The second is that direct material benefits alone are never enough. People don’t simply vote in their immediate financial interest, although of course interests play an essential role. Economic motives are like nuclei around which layers of narrative form, but it’s the narrative—the meaning—that orients people, and an economic condition can be explained in multiple ways. Not all explanations are equally valid, of course, but in politics that’s largely irrelevant. So yes, Sanders can and should talk up Social Security expansion and how universal health insurance would benefit those on Medicare too. But that’s not a sufficient political strategy; it lacks an encompassing narrative. This narrative doesn’t have to be one all older people will gravitate to, but it has to speak to a significant portion of them.