Hillary Clinton Struggles To Attract Obama Coalition Of Young Voters

Sep 21, 2016
Originally published on September 21, 2016 6:32 pm
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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Hillary Clinton has a problem with young voters. She doesn't excite them as a candidate in the same way that Barack Obama did when he ran.

In fact, some young voters this year say they'll stay home, or even vote for a third party candidate. And that's a problem for Clinton because she's counting on the Obama coalition of voters to win the White House.

To help us understand what's going on with young voters, NPR's Asma Khalid joins us in the studio. She covers the intersection of demographics and politics. Hiya.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Hi, Robert.

SIEGEL: Asma, we're about millennials - voters between the ages of 18 to 35. First of all, it's a huge group.

KHALID: That's right, Robert. They are now the largest generation in the country. So they have a lot of potential for political clout. In fact, millennials now rival baby boomers as a political force. They're both roughly 31 percent of the electorate.

SIEGEL: And are they any more likely to vote than young voters of elections past, who have a reputation as being great slackers on Election Day?

KHALID: (Laughter) Well, Robert, you're a baby boomer, right?

SIEGEL: Absolutely, yes.

KHALID: All right. And so what we did is we asked CIRCLE, which is an institute at Tufts University, to do a sort of apples-to-apples comparison, looking at the first time a majority of 18 to 24-year-olds in each generation was eligible to vote. And for boomers, that election was 1972. Back then, boomers voted at a much lower rate than they participate in now. So in other words, it looks like all voters, when they're young, seem to vote at much lower rates than they do as they get older.

And we should mention they also compiled this data for Gen-Xers. And we saw a similar trend. One thing unique about the 2008 and 2012 elections was that some estimates show about half of all 18 to 29-year-olds voted. And that was actually higher than the turnout rate we saw in the '90s, when Gen-Xers were young.

SIEGEL: So it seems that Obama's election and re-election, that's the anomaly. That's the outlier. Why aren't these same voters now as excited about Hillary Clinton?

KHALID: So a lot of young voters tell me that they don't find Hillary Clinton trustworthy or authentic. They seem to care a lot about the personality, even over the party. They're not as connected to the political parties as institutions. In fact, millennials are less likely to identify with a religious organization or unions. So this isn't just limited to political institutions.

This is also a generation that has more liberal views on race, gender and the environment. But even though they identify ideologically as liberal, that doesn't mean they align with the Democratic Party. About half of millennials identify as independents. That's higher than the general population. They do often see themselves as progressives. But I've often heard that they find Clinton is too moderate, or too cozy with Wall Street.

I spoke with John Della Volpe at Harvard's Institute of Politics about this. He's done some polling that shows less than half of young people support capitalism.

JOHN DELLA VOLPE: They don't believe the way in which capitalism is practiced today is fair, and provides the opportunities for all Americans that it should.

SIEGEL: Asma, you've spent a lot of time talking to voters in battleground states. What are you hearing from young voters who don't support Clinton about their reasoning?

KHALID: So, Robert, the other week I was in Florida. And I met a young guy, Mohamad Shair. He's a 24-year-old law student. And he was a Bernie Sanders supporter, who says he's no fan of Hillary Clinton.

MOHAMAD SHAIR: Because none of her policies reflect our values and what we want. None. Well, like, on health care, she isn't in the same place on health care. Criminal justice - she isn't in the same place on criminal justice.

KHALID: He's going to vote for a Green Party candidate, Jill Stein. I also met Melissa Gomez on the campus of the University of Central Florida. She was an Obama voter and a Sanders supporter.

MELISSA GOMEZ: I'm actually leaning more towards Gary Johnson, which is kind of - I know a waste of a vote in a sense because I feel like any vote that's not for Hillary is going to be a vote for Trump. And that's kind of upsetting to me. So it's like I'm still on the fence about what I am going to do. But I don't honestly agree with anybody's actual platform. So it is a problem.

KHALID: So, Robert, these are voters who are engaged with the issues. They're not apathetic. They want to vote. But they just don't see either major party offering them anything they can get excited about.

SIEGEL: NPR's Asma Khalid. Asma, thanks.

KHALID: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.