How Hillary Clinton Is Trying To Win Over Millennial Skeptics

Aug 22, 2016
Originally published on August 23, 2016 4:07 am

Millennials may be notorious for their low voter turnout, but they have growing political clout. This November, they'll rival baby boomers in terms of their sheer number of eligible voters. And that means they could be key deciders in battleground states. Theoretically, that ought to benefit a Democrat. But during the primaries, young voters were Hillary Clinton's Achilles' heel. Now Clinton is hoping they'll give her a second chance.

The reason millennials are so important to Clinton's strategy is that she is trying to rebuild the Obama coalition of voters — people of color, women and millennials. During the primary season, she did well with the first two groups mentioned — women and minorities — but young voters overwhelmingly chose her opponent Bernie Sanders.

Millennials are the largest and most diverse generation to date. More than 40 percent identify as people of color; and about one-third are parents.

The Clinton campaign is trying to reach all corners of this generation with a strategy that includes both college and noncollege voters.

"Ninety percent of babies that were born last year were born to millennials," said Sarah Audelo, the campaign's millennial vote director. "A lot of what we're doing is thinking about how we're going to reach millennial parents ... looking at issues like child care."

Clinton also recently penned an essay in Teen Vogue, made a pitch to a millennial-owned business in Iowa, and praised apprenticeships in Nevada. Her campaign is flooding college campuses with organizers and volunteers.

"It's not so much about persuasion, it's really — this election is much more about mobilizing," said Spencer Carnes, who heads campus outreach efforts for the Colorado Democratic Party's coordinated campaign.

Carnes spent his final semester of senior year of college working for the Sanders campaign, but now he is traveling to college campuses across Colorado with a mission to get Clinton into the White House.

"It really wasn't a matter of switching from Sen. Sanders to Secretary Clinton; it was a matter of being a Democrat," said Carnes, standing outside the main student center at the University of Colorado, Boulder, sporting a pair of flip-flops and wire-rimmed sunglasses. "I've been a Democrat since 2004, when I was in fifth grade."

Carnes credits John Kerry for that political awakening.

But he realizes not all Sanders supporters see this election through his lens.

"There are some individuals who ... feel disenfranchised," said Carnes. "What we're doing in order to engage those individuals is showing them the Democratic Party is what you make it — that if you want it to be a party that's representational of you, then you need to participate in it."

Carnes insists the most effective way to engage college students is through one-on-one conversations. And, as new students move into dorms, he's on campus to ensure they also register to vote.

Turnout will be key, according to Andrew Baumann, a senior researcher with the Global Strategy Group and a Democratic pollster who surveyed young voters in battleground states this past July.

"Millennials absolutely disdain Donald Trump," he said. "But they don't love Secretary Clinton either."

And that apathy could be troublesome.

"They're not gonna vote for Trump. That's not the question. The question is — if they're gonna vote for a third-party candidate or stay home. And Secretary Clinton really needs to work to make sure that doesn't happen."

Baumann says it's not enough to merely "hate Trump" — that won't mobilize a disaffected Sanders voter to cast a ballot for Clinton.

The type of person he is describing is Misty Plowright. She's a 33-year-old IT consultant. Plowright is a Democrat, a Sanders fan, and one of the first openly transgender people running for Congress. But she is also a Clinton skeptic who is considering a vote for Jill Stein — the Green Party nominee.

"They talk about trying to court us, but it comes across as just lip service," said Plowright. "Look at her VP pick. I mean, [Tim] Kaine? Are you kidding?" she asked, incredulously. Many progressives criticized Clinton for choosing a relatively moderate vice presidential candidate.

But as she knocks Clinton's "conservatism," Plowright also worries that Trump is a man willing to shred the Constitution. And, so she is torn.

"I think there's one way where stop Trump at all costs would get me to vote for Clinton and that's if I actually truly believed that Trump was Hitler 2.0 and he was actually going to do that level of evil. If I believed that, yeah, I'd vote for Clinton," she said.

But Plowright points to Congress and says she doubts Trump will carry out his plans, even if he is elected; and so for now, she says, she has "no idea" what she's going to do in November.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Millennials are notorious for their low voter turnout, but their political clout is growing. This November they will rival baby boomers in terms of the raw number of eligible voters. During the primaries, young voters were Hillary Clinton's Achilles heel. Now she's hoping they'll give her a second look. NPR's Asma Khalid just returned from Colorado, and she has this report.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Spencer Carnes spent his final semester senior year of college working for the Bernie Sanders campaign. He still gushes about those days and his love for campaign finance reform. But now he has a new job. He goes to college campuses across Colorado with a mission to get Hillary Clinton into the White House.

SPENCER CARNES: For me, it really wasn't a matter of switching from Senator Sanders to Secretary Clinton. It was a matter of being a Democrat. I've been a Democrat since 2004 when I was in fifth grade.

KHALID: He credits John Kerry for that. Carnes and I are talking outside the main student center at the University of Colorado Boulder. He's wearing a pair of flip flops and wire-rimmed sunglasses. And on this day, students all around us are moving into their dorms, and Carnes is here making sure they also register to vote.

CARNES: It's not so much about persuasion. It's really - this election is much more about mobilizing.

KHALID: The reason young folks are so important to Clinton's strategy is that she's trying to rebuild the Obama coalition of voters - people of color, women and millennials. A majority of young voters chose Bernie Sanders during the primaries, and some of them still need convincing.

CARNES: There are some individuals who are definitely not particularly enthused to vote at all this year. They feel disenfranchised, and no one's - no one should be blind to that fact. But what we're doing in order to engage those individuals is showing them that the Democratic Party is what you make it, that if you want it to be a party that's representational of you, then you need to participate in it.

KHALID: Carnes says the most effective way to persuade a college student is through a one-on-one conversation.

MARIEL KRAMER: Hey, have you guys gotten a chance to update your voter registration to your November addresses yet?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Already have.

KRAMER: You have?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Yep.

KRAMER: And that's exactly what Mariel Kramer is doing. She's a student organizer who scours the streets of campus from 9 a.m. till night, trying to chat about Hillary Clinton with almost anyone who will listen.

KRAMER: So I was hoping that you guys would be willing to fill out one of these cards for us.

KHALID: On this day, she spent nearly two minutes trying to convince one guy to fill out a card and volunteer for Clinton.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Yeah, understandable. And you do great work. I'm going to pass, though.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Yeah. Thank you.

KRAMER: OK. Have a great day.

KHALID: No luck. But Kramer is persistent. She'll be out again tonight, trying to catch people as they wait in line to get into the bars. The Clinton campaign is flooding college towns like this one in part because young voters could be key deciders in battleground states.

Clinton recently penned an essay in Teen Vogue, made a pitch to a millennial-owned business in Iowa and talked up apprenticeships in Nevada. It's a broad strategy because millennials are the largest and most diverse generation to date.

SARAH AUDELO: About a third of our generation are parents. Ninety percent of babies that were born last year were born to millennials.

KHALID: That's the campaign's millennial vote director, Sarah Audelo.

AUDELO: And so a lot of what we're doing is thinking about how we're going to reach millennial parents, looking at issues like child care.

KHALID: These voters lean left, but they did not vote for her in the primaries. Andrew Baumann is a Democratic pollster who surveyed young voters in battleground states.

ANDREW BAUMANN: Millennials absolutely disdain Donald Trump. His values and his worldview are the exact opposite of most of millennial voters. So there is some driving force there to have those folks vote for Hillary. But it's not enough. They hate Trump, but that doesn't mean they're necessarily going to go to Hillary.

KHALID: In fact polls show Clinton is not yet capturing Obama levels of support with millennials. They're turned off by her opponent, but they're not in love with her either.

BAUMANN: They're not going to vote for Trump. That's not the question. The question is if they're going to look for a third party candidate or stay home. And Secretary Clinton really needs to work to make sure that that doesn't happen.

KHALID: In the next 11 weeks, her challenge is to make millennial voters as excited about her candidacy as they were for Bernie Sanders or Barack Obama. Asma Khalid, NPR News, Colorado. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.