Why Bernie Sanders is obsessed with 17-year-olds (and their cell phones)

A campaign strategy targeting teenagers as young as 17 might sound like a waste of valuable time and money. But in Iowa there are 52,000 high school seniors who will be 18 by Election Day, and the rules of caucus voting allow anyone eligible to vote in November to participate this Monday. Confident that this slice of the electorate is overwhelmingly Bernie territory, the Sanders campaign has gone after them aggressively — his website is the only one among his Democratic rivals that makes explicit multiple reminders about this quirk in the age rules.

To find and reach out to kids who might really show up to caucus, Sanders has built a sophisticated team, in part fueled by some of the data and digital talent that helped propel the social-media savvy Barack Obama 2008 campaign. Its consultants include data analytics guru Ken Strasma and digital strategist Scott Goodstein, both Obama campaign vets, and behind the scenes has a small army of smart digital hands blasting away on social media and helping to build up a large database of young supporters. The tech team also works with celebrities like Seth MacFarlane, Sarah Silverman and Killer Mike to coordinate and promote pro-Bernie tweets and Instagram posts that echo across the Internet, picking up thousands of additional views by young people.

They’re taking advantage of the thinly sliced market segments offered by digital powerhouses like YouTube, Snapchat and Facebook, which sell the ability to send ads very specifically to the phones of, say, Iowans in their late teens. Over on Pandora, youth-oriented Bernie commercials can be made to interrupt only pop music shuffles for the kinds of songs their parents would never be able to identify, from heavy metal rock bands like Five Finger Death Punch to hip hoppers Twenty One Pilots and electropop star Halsey.