Many Young Voters Remain On The Fence After First Debate

Sep 27, 2016
Originally published on September 27, 2016 6:38 pm
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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

We're going to hear about the candidates' performance in last night's presidential debate and ask, did it change anyone's minds? But first, here's a bit of Hillary Clinton last night.

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HILLARY CLINTON: I think Donald just criticized me for preparing for this debate. And yes, I did. And you know what else I prepared for? I prepared to be president, and I think that's a good thing.

SIEGEL: And here is Donald Trump countering that he was a fresh alternative.

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DONALD TRUMP: So she's got experience. That I agree. But it's a bad, bad experience.

(CHEERING, APPLAUSE)

TRUMP: Whether it's the Iran...

SIEGEL: NPR's Asma Khalid watched the debate with college kids in North Carolina. Hillary Clinton needs millennial support, but she hasn't been doing as well with young voters as Barack Obama did. Here's Asma's report.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: First off, let's get some facts straight. Hillary Clinton clearly leads Donald Trump among young voters. So the question is not, will young folks vote for Clinton? It's how many.

(CROSSTALK)

KHALID: Elon University is a private liberal arts school about an hour's drive from Raleigh. A couple hundred students watched the debate together at the student union on campus. Some played to debate bingo. Others did homework. And that's where I met Noah Kutner.

NOAH KUTNER: I'm completely undecided. I have no idea what I'm going to do.

KHALID: Kutner had been a John Kasich supporter during the primaries. He's not a fan of either major party's nominee. But this moment near the end of the debate really rubbed him the wrong way.

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TRUMP: You want to know the truth? I was going to say something extremely...

UNIDENTIFIED MODERATOR: Please very quickly...

TRUMP: ...Rough to Hillary, to her family, and I said to myself...

KUTNER: You're running for president. Like, you shouldn't - that shouldn't be something you need to say in front of a national audience. Like, you're not fighting with someone on a playground. Like, it's a presidential debate.

KHALID: After the debate, Kutner told me she's leaning slightly more toward Clinton.

KUTNER: I wouldn't say that it's made me like Hillary, like, anymore, but I feel more comfortable with her than I do with him. Like, it continued my thoughts that he just doesn't have, like, the leadership skills to lead this country.

KHALID: If Clinton can win over voters like Kutner, that will be key. And here's why. In 2012, even though Obama won millennials as a group, he lost white millennials, people like Kutner. Clinton's other problem is energizing young, black voters like Kenneth Brown Jr.

KENNETH BROWN JR: And while I'm not so thrilled about the idea of Clinton - but I can tolerate a Clinton presidency. She is not the most inspiring person, but she knows how to get things done. She's a grandma.

KHALID: Brown says the debate did not fundamentally change his mind, but he was more impressed with Clinton because of her tone and her demeanor, especially at this point.

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CLINTON: Donald supported the invasion of Iraq.

TRUMP: Wrong.

CLINTON: That is absolutely...

TRUMP: Wrong.

CLINTON: ...Proved over and over again.

TRUMP: Wrong.

CLINTON: He actually...

BROWN JR: The moment he just started yelling wrong into the microphone multiple times - that was like, oh.

KHALID: The Trump supporters in the room overlooked that moment. For them, nothing that happened last night swayed their opinion of him. But for others, last night was confirmation that they should do anything and everything to stop Trump regardless of how they feel about Clinton. Take Alex Hager. He's like a lot of young voters, identifies as independent.

ALEX HAGER: I would vote for Gary Johnson in a situation where I know that Trump is not going to win the election. But if it is getting close enough right at the end, I will absolutely be voting for Hillary Clinton just for the sake of it being not Trump (laughter).

KHALID: And this morning Alex Hager switched his residency from Connecticut to register to vote here in North Carolina.

John Della Volpe, the polling director at the Harvard Institute of Politics, held a virtual town hall with students at some 20 colleges across the country, including key swing states like Ohio and Florida. He says overwhelmingly the millennials he talked to thought Clinton had a good night.

JOHN DELLA VOLPE: More than about 60 percent indicated that she won the debate. Twenty percent of those undecideds said they were more likely to vote for Clinton coming out of that debate. So overall she had a very, very strong performance in the minds of young people.

KHALID: But the thing is, this election is not just between Clinton and Trump. For young voters, it's also a choice between Hillary Clinton, a third party and staying at home on Election Day. Della Volpe says Clinton might have taken a step in the right direction last night, but it does not fundamentally change the arc of this campaign. Asma Khalid, NPR News, Elon, N.C. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.