Could Millennials Cost Clinton the Presidency?

Liberal young people were supposed to be part of her winning coalition, but they’re moving to third-party candidates in remarkably high numbers.

Young protesters at a Clinton rally Thursday in Greensboro, N.C.
AP Photo/Andrew Harnik
Sept. 16, 2016, 6 a.m.

One of the most surprising elements of this presidential campaign is the lack of engagement from President Obama’s diverse base of millennials and nonwhite voters—despite the presence of the deeply-divisive Donald Trump in the race. Polling suggests the race is highly competitive, driven by Trump’s supporters saying they’re more likely to show up at the polls than Hillary Clinton’s. And the main reason Clinton finds herself in trouble is that she doesn’t appeal to many of the same voters who flocked to back Obama in 2008 and 2012.

The mostly liberal millennials were expected to be a critical part of Clinton’s winning coalition, but it turns out they hold a dim view of her candidacy. In the Democratic primaries, she won less than 30 percent of their support against Bernie Sanders. A remarkable 77 percent don’t think she’s honest, according to a new Quinnipiac national survey. A slew of polls released this week show these voters are moving to third-party candidates in remarkably high numbers. Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein tallied a whopping 44 percent of the vote among millennials, according to the Quinnipiac poll—three times their support among all voters. It’s not an outlier: A CBS/New York Times survey released Thursday shows the two winning 36 percent of the same constituency.

That’s the difference between a narrow Clinton lead and a dead-even race. In a two-way contest, Clinton leads by 5 (Quinnipiac) and 2 (CBS/NYT). In a four-way race, Clinton’s lead shrinks to 2 (Quinnipiac) or disappears entirely (CBS/NYT). Without Johnson and Stein in the field, Clinton holds a substantial lead over Trump with millennials. But her 21-point advantage over Trump among millennials shrinks to just 5 points when Johnson and Stein are on the ballot.

The Clinton campaign knows it has a problem with young voters and is promoting five events in Ohio with Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren this weekend as ones that “lay out the stakes for millennial voters.” It’s possible that as the election draws closer, liberal younger voters will reluctantly rally behind Clinton rather than risk giving the election to Trump. But it’s also very plausible that apathetic young voters will simply stay home.

Equally problematic for Team Clinton is Hispanic voter apathy. Given Trump’s rhetoric on immigration, it was easy to assume Latinos would register and turn out at historic levels. But in a poll of Florida Hispanic voters conducted for Univision, Clinton is winning only 53 percent of the Hispanic vote in the state—7 points shy of Obama’s performance in 2012. A surprisingly high number of Hispanic voters are undecided. It’s not that they tolerate Trump; it’s that they have very negative views towards Clinton as well. Trump is also leading in new Nevada polling, despite his low standing with Hispanic voters in the state. Turning them out will be critical for Clinton to win.

The good news for Clinton is that it should be easier for her to win back Obama’s base than it will be for Trump to make inroads where he’s underperforming (with college-educated white women, in particular). Democratic operatives are confident that these core Democratic voters will return to the fold come November. The bad news? The election is less than two months away, and Clinton still hasn’t closed the deal with what should be her party’s most passionate supporters.


1. Another deeply Democratic constituency where Clinton is underperforming is the Jewish vote. A newly released survey commissioned by the American Jewish Committee found that she is winning just 61 percent of the Jewish vote to Trump’s 19 percent. When undecided voters are pressed to choose, Clinton’s number inches up to 66 percent. That would be the lowest share of the Jewish vote any Democratic presidential nominee received since Michael Dukakis in 1988 (64 percent). It’s possible she won’t do any better than Obama, who received 69 percent in 2012.

It’s a sign that President Obama’s controversial nuclear deal with Iran (which Clinton supports) and his chilly relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are having an impact on Jewish voters’ longtime identification with the Democratic Party. Given Trump’s own deep unpopularity with Jewish voters, it’s unlikely to make a difference in this election—unless Florida ends up going down to the wire. But the trend may have implications for the future.

2. Even if Trump loses the presidential race, there’s a growing possibility he may end up with the most GOP electoral votes since George W. Bush’s winning campaign of 2004. Trump’s strength with white working-class voters has put him ahead in Iowa and Ohio, according to polls released this week. But he’s in danger of losing North Carolina, which Mitt Romney won in 2012. Still, if he traded North Carolina for Ohio, it would be a net gain. And with new statewide polls showing him leading in Florida and Nevada, he’s got a lot of wiggle room to outperform Romney.

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