Why Clinton Has a Millennial Problem

The younger they get, the less supportive voters are for her.

Chelsea Clinton answers questions from students at York College in York, Pa., during a campaign stop for her mother, Democratic presidential hopeful, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., Wednesday, April 2, 2008.
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
Colin Diersing
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Colin Diersing
Sept. 15, 2016, 8 p.m.

Bernie Sanders prom­ised them a re­volu­tion. Now Hil­lary Clin­ton has to con­vince them to settle.

Amer­ica’s young­est voters helped pro­pel Sanders to a sur­pris­ingly strong show­ing in the Demo­crat­ic primar­ies. Now, as Clin­ton faces Don­ald Trump, re­cent polling in­dic­ates she is strug­gling to win them over at the level of Sanders or Pres­id­ent Obama, and it sug­gests the prob­lem is con­cen­trated among the very young­est voters, who could flee for a third-party can­did­ate.

In a new sur­vey of Mil­len­ni­al likely voters re­leased Thursday by lib­er­al group Nex­t­Gen Cli­mate, in col­lab­or­a­tion with Glob­al Strategy Group, sup­port for Clin­ton was only 5 points lower than sup­port for Barack Obama among those 25 to 34 years old. But it was far lower in com­par­is­on with 18-24-year-olds. Her fa­vor­ab­il­ity rat­ing among the young­est group was just 38 per­cent, com­pared to 45 per­cent with those 24 to 29, and 50 per­cent with those 30 to 34.

The poll is con­sist­ent with ana­lys­is of Sur­vey Mon­key data pub­lished this week on Five Thirty Eight, which showed Clin­ton un­der­per­form­ing Obama’s ap­prov­al rat­ing by 18 points among 18-24-year-olds, while more or less match­ing it with every oth­er age group, in­clud­ing older mil­len­ni­als.

“As you get young­er, the prob­lems for her get more pro­nounced, in terms of reach­ing her full po­ten­tial and per­form­ing re­l­at­ive to par­tis­an­ship,” said An­drew Bau­mann, a Glob­al Strategy Group poll­ster who over­saw the sur­vey. “Views to­ward Pres­id­ent Obama, Sen­at­or Sanders, Don­ald Trump, and the Re­pub­lic­an Party—all those things are con­sist­ent across [Mil­len­ni­al] age groups. Views to­ward Sec­ret­ary Clin­ton are lower as they get young­er.”

While their slightly older coun­ter­parts likely re­mem­ber Clin­ton as a pop­u­lar sec­ret­ary of State who worked closely with a pres­id­ent they deeply ad­mire, the young­est voters in this elec­tion are more likely to have defined their views of Clin­ton in the con­text of this hard-fought cam­paign, in which her trust­wor­thi­ness and pro­gress­ive bon­afides have come un­der fire.

“Their view to­ward Sec­ret­ary Clin­ton is pretty much en­tirely based on what they’ve gone through in this cam­paign,” Bau­mann said. “They really liked Sen­at­or Sanders, and he spent a year telling them Hil­lary Clin­ton was a tool of the ol­ig­archs, for the Ir­aq war, all these bad things.”

In a sep­ar­ate in­ter­view, Demo­crat­ic poll­ster Celinda Lake said these voters are fur­ther re­moved from the strong eco­nomy of Bill Clin­ton’s pres­id­ency and more likely to feel rest­less about the eco­nom­ic and polit­ic­al sys­tem with which they con­nect Clin­ton.

“The older mil­len­ni­als have par­ents who speak quite fondly of the Clin­ton years,” Lake said. “The young­er mil­len­ni­als have par­ents who don’t tend to have as much re­cog­ni­tion of how good the eco­nomy was dur­ing the ‘90s.

While the older end of the gen­er­a­tion rose up through a tough eco­nomy and has made it, Lake ad­ded, the young­er ones “are the baris­tas at Star­bucks, haven’t been able to get a job, are very heav­ily in­debted, and are back home on the couch dur­ing the re­ces­sion, none of which made them happy.”

The young­est voters also don’t have as much ex­per­i­ence in party polit­ics. They haven’t voted for either party many times and, strategists said, that might leave them open to con­sid­er­ing oth­er op­tions more read­ily.

“Folks who are late 20s, early-to-mid-30s, those are the hope-and-change Mil­len­ni­als. They re­membered 2008 be­cause they got re­gistered and prob­ably got re­gistered as Demo­crats. They’ve de­veloped a little bit longer-term loy­alty to the Demo­crat­ic Party la­bel and tra­di­tion­al par­tis­an di­vides,” said Re­pub­lic­an poll­ster Kristen Solt­is An­der­son, au­thor of The Selfie Vote. “If you’re young­er you don’t ne­ces­sar­ily have a his­tory of cast­ing votes in na­tion­al elec­tions, maybe you haven’t even re­gistered with a party.”

Sev­er­al poll­sters poin­ted out they are also less likely to re­mem­ber the 2000 elec­tion, when third-party vot­ing was widely seen as hav­ing thrown the elec­tion to George Bush. Greg Speed, pres­id­ent of Amer­ica Votes, said he thinks these voters need to be re­minded of the cost of vot­ing third party.

“Not only is the Clin­ton pres­id­ency not their ex­per­i­ence, the 2000 elec­tion is also not part of their polit­ic­al ex­per­i­ence. They see vot­ing for a Gary John­son or a Jill Stein as more of a free pass than it really is,” Speed said. “We need to make clear that the only way to de­feat Trump is to vote for Clin­ton.”

Of John­son, Lake said, “Older voters will say ‘He’s the pot can­did­ate.’ Young­er Mil­len­ni­als will say, ‘No, he’s a re­form can­did­ate.’”

All of this has some Demo­crat­ic strategists ques­tion­ing how the Clin­ton cam­paign has handled its out­reach to young voters so far, and wor­ried that they could face prob­lems without a plan to win back the ones cur­rently sup­port­ing third-parties. Paint­ing a neg­at­ive im­age of Trump might not be enough, they point out, with a co­hort of voters par­tic­u­larly will­ing to pass Clin­ton over for John­son or Stein.

“It’s im­per­at­ive here for us to be able to com­mu­nic­ate and double down and win these voters and bring these voters along, be­cause there is no Demo­crat win­ning co­ali­tion without them,” Demo­crat­ic poll­ster Cor­nell Belch­er said.

Ben Tulchin, who polled for Sanders in the primary, said Clin­ton should spend more time talk­ing about the col­lege af­ford­ab­il­ity plan she in­tro­duced after the primary, say­ing, “She’s got to have more repu­ta­tion, more con­vic­tion to it.”

No mat­ter her out­reach, Belch­er said there should be no ex­pect­a­tion for Clin­ton to match Obama’s sup­port with young voters.

“It’s un­fair for Hil­lary or really al­most any Demo­crat to come on the back end of that love af­fair to think the same sort of en­ergy and love would be there for them,” Belch­er said. “They fell in love with Barack Obama and now their lov­er is leav­ing.”

Bau­man took a dif­fer­ent view, say­ing he would have ex­pec­ted clear­er sup­port for Clin­ton at this point.

“I would have been sur­prised Sec­ret­ary Clin­ton hadn’t been able to bring them around and con­sol­id­ate them as much as I thought they would, but it doesn’t sur­prise me without the ef­fort that they don’t come around,” Bau­man said.

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