Sanders' Tuition-Free College Message Resonates At UNH

Sep 21, 2015

Bernie Sanders took his campaign for the Democratic nomination for President to the University of New Hampshire Sunday evening for the first time this primary season. The result: a big, enthusiastic crowd.

But even in a throng of young people, there are those who doubt that Sanders can pull-off the political revolution he’s pushing for.

It’s certainly not news that Bernie Sanders does not struggle to attract a crowd. In July 10,000 people turned out in Madison, Wisc. Sunday night in Durham, it was more than 3,000, according to an estimate from his campaign.

“You may not know this, but what you are part of tonight is the largest turnout for any presidential candidate in New Hampshire,” Sanders told the crowd.

Sanders then proceeded to deliver a standard Sanders stump speech: heavy on rhetoric opposing corporate America and economic justice, a lengthy section on racial discrimination and police violence, some climate change, and a section on paid family and sick leave.

And of course, in a college town, you’ve got to talk about college affordability.

“I have introduced legislation that would make public colleges and universities throughout our country tuition free!” he declared, again to raucous cheers.

Sanders’ plan is to create a tax on financial transactions in the stock market, fifty cents on every 100 dollars of shares traded, which he hopes would raise the $75 billion a year he needs to pay for this plan.  It’s a more ambitious than what Hillary Clinton has proposed, which she has been calling quote “debt-free” college, and would cost less than half as much.

Sanders' proposal goes over well in this crowd, where college debt is on the minds of many of the students as they filed out of the speech.

“I mean, I like the whole like taxing Wall Street and what-not,” says Sophomore Tom Mastorakos, “because I thought that could be a really effective way of making money, considering there’s like billions of dollars in there.

In fact, he thinks the tax could be doubled.

“You could even up it a dollar for every hundred dollars in the future,” he says, “if that works for paying college tuition and set that money aside for other aspects of the economy.”

But the tricky thing about college students: they’re learning how to ask questions. And some in this crowd doubt that Sanders can pull this off.

“I get so frustrated because it’s easy to stand up and say ‘UNH, everything is going to be free for you in like four years,’ and the answer is that it won’t,” says Veronica Little, who confesses that she’s a Hillary Clinton fan. “To sell that to young students and to hang your hat on that as like your political campaign idea is sort-of misleading.”

Things are often, in-fact, trickier than they seem in stump speeches: an analysis of Sanders’ proposal by the non-partisan Tax Policy Center found that it would probably only pull in about two-thirds of what he needs to pay for his plan.

And that’s assuming a Congress that would go along with all of this gets elected along with him. But Sanders has a plan for this as well: build a total political revolution.

No president can do what has to be done for the middle-class and working people of this country alone," he declared from the podium. "I need your help not just during this campaign; I will need your help the day after the election.” 

Whether Sanders gets the chance to put his political revolution to the test will depend on what happens in the time remaining between now and Primary Day.