MENU
component-ddb-728x90-v1-01-desktop

Hillary Clinton's Millennial challenge

People listen as Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton during a campaign event in Burlington, Iowa, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2016. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Hillary Clinton learned the hard way, eight years ago, about the importance of Millennials when her then-rival Barack Obama swamped her 5-to-1 among young voters in the Iowa caucuses and upset her in the opening round of the 2008 campaign.

Determined not to repeat history, Clinton started out her 2016 campaign with a concerted focus on wooing Millennials, launching up a SnapChat account, targeting websites popular among young adults like BuzzFeed, making college affordability a top issue and even hiring President Obama's former youth vote coordinator, Rachel Schneider, to lead the effort.

A few weeks ahead of another Democratic Iowa caucus, Clinton finds herself again trailing among Millennials, this time to Socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders, who holds as much as a 10 percent lead in national polls among the youngest generation of voters and frequently fills events near college campuses with thousands of cheering students.


Millennials are becoming an increasingly important slice of the electorate because, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2015 they became the largest generation in Americarepresenting more than a quarter of the population. They tend to skew more liberal right now but only 20 percent of Americans under 30 consider themselves politically active.

In fact, a majority of Millennials think "there are better ways to make a difference than voting." And that means getting them to the polls will be more difficult than getting older voters to the polls.

It is not just Clinton who is having difficulties with young voters; all of the 2016 candidates are facing challenges with millennials, the majority of whom don't see the current field as fully in tune with their issues. Responding to a recent Rock the Vote/USA Today poll Dewayne Smithy, 33, told USA Today, "I can't really find a candidate that I like, for one thing," and he is not alone.

The GOP front runner Donald Trump is working to connect with millennials. He has been wooing millennials using Twitter and his daughter Ivanka, a young and attractive business executive and mom appeared in his first early state radio ads this week. Recent polling has rewarded Trump for his efforts; he stands atop the GOP field for young voters, followed by retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson.

Like Trump, Mrs. Clinton has been trying to woo millennials, unlike Trump her results are paltry at best.

In 2008 the Clinton campaign was supposed to inevitable. Hillary didn't plan on an opponent who was able to galvanize American voters (especially young and minority voters). Obama had made youth outreach a focus of his campaign, and Millennials responded.

The trend of young voters supporting Obama over Clinton repeated itself throughout the primary and ultimately helped Obama win his party's nomination and the general election. So, this cycle, Clinton was planning on running a different type of campaignone that would prioritize younger voters and the Obama coalition.

Before she officially declared her candidacy, Clinton had been on the speaking circuit delivering speeches on college campuses across the country. During that same time period, the group urging her to run, Ready for Hillary, hired Schneider to be the youth engagement director.

Clinton's campaign also has focused on putting Clinton in front of millennials in an attempt to make her seem more familiar and less stoic. They hired their social media director from Buzzfeed, launched a Snapchat account, and organized for Chelsea Clinton to host a SoulCycle fundraiser.

Clinton herself has done an interview for Lena Dunham's newsletter Lenny (Dunham has also hit the campaign trail for Clinton), sat down for Buzzfeed's "Another Round", taped an appearance for Comedy Central's Broad City, been on Saturday Night Live, selfies with Kim Kardashian and Kanye West, danced the Nene with Amy Schumer, and been interviewed by YouTube celebrity GloZell.


Beyond the surface-level appeals, the Clinton campaign has also tried to prioritize what they see as youth issues, such as student debt, and youth unemployment. Issues she highlighted when asked about why young voters should support her at Sunday night's NBC News Democratic debate.

"This election is mostly about the future therefore it is of greatest urgency for young people. I've laid out my ideas about what we can do to make college more affordable, how we can help people pay off their student debt and save thousands of dollars, how we can create more good jobs," Clinton said.

Yet, for all the effort to make Clinton appear more in sync with Millennials, the youngest generation still prefers her opponent, Sen. Bernie Sanders. According to the most recent Harvard Institute of Politics poll, Sanders leads Clinton among millennials 41 percent to 35 percent. These findings were echoed by a USA TODAY/Rock the Vote poll, which found that Sanders leads 46 percent to 35 percent.

Despite Obama's success with millennial voters, they are not guaranteed to show up on Election Day. According to The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University, since the 1980 election only twice, in '92 and '08, did more than 50 percent of voters under 30 vote in a general election. By comparison during that same time span an average of 68 percent of voters of all ages cast a ballot for president in the general election.

If Sanders wants to beat Clinton he will need to increase millennial turnout like Obama did, which is why he has done Reddit Ask Me Anything, joined Snapchat, sat down with rapper Killer Mike, and been on Comedy Central's The Nightly Show. "The challenge of this election is to disprove the skeptics who believe (young people) don't vote," Tad Devine, Sanders' senior adviser told USA Today. "Obama and his campaign took that on, they disproved it, it became the source of their victory. We're trying to do the same thing."

Republicans have their own challenges. A Republican candidate has not won a majority of the youth vote since 1988. According to Pew, the millennial generation is the only one in which liberals outnumber conservatives. Pew also notes that millennials have "liberal views on many political and social issues, ranging from a belief in an activist government to support for same-sex marriage and marijuana legalization."

While millennials are liberal on numerous issues, all hope is not lost for Republicans. The top issue for young voters, according to the Harvard Institute of Politics is the economy and, UBS Wealth Management Americas has found that millennials are the most fiscally conservative generation since the Great Depression.

This cycle Republicans are trying to engage Millennials to leverage their economic conservatism into votes. Candidates like Carly Fiorina, Gov. Christie as well as Sens. Rubio, and Paul all have SnapChat accounts. Gov. Bush's son Jeb Bush Jr. has toured colleges for him.

Carly Fiorina has done a Buzzfeed video, has proposed using smart phone apps so people can directly interact with the White House, and did a Periscope town hall. Sen. Paul has hosted a hack-athon, done a college tour, appeared on Comedy Central's the Daily Show and is prioritizing issues he believes motivate young voters like, fighting bulk data collection, and promoting criminal justice reform.

Sen. Cruz launched his campaign at Liberty University, cooked bacon with a rifle, and impersonated the Simpsons on Buzzfeed.

Sen. Rubio tries to relate by talking about his student debt, the sharing economy, and highlights his youthfulness.

Donald Trump constantly creates news with his Twitter and Instagram accounts places where millennials get their news.


For all the effort Republican candidates have put into attracting young voters, only Trump has found success.

Failures with millennial voters have hurt both Hillary Clinton and the GOP in past elections. Despite their efforts to reverse the trend, their change in approach has not endeared them to young voters. It's doubtful that their weakness with millennials will sink any campaign this cycle, but sooner rather than later the millennial vote will determine elections and the direction of our country.

Raphael Williams is a contributor to Sinclair Broadcast Group

Trending