Beyond college debt, what do Millennial voters want from Clinton?

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders plan to discuss college debt at a rally in New Hampshire Wednesday, but some experts on Millennials and politics wonder if this is enough to win over a key demographic in the November election. 

Andrew Harnik/AP/File
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I) of Vermont wave to supporters as Mr. Sanders endorses Mrs. Clinton at a rally in Portsmouth, N.H., in July 2016. The two will share the stage in the Granite State this week to discuss college affordability.

The stage Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I) of Vermont will share in New Hampshire on Wednesday to discuss college debt is just one tactic the Democratic nominee has deployed this month to woo Millennials away from third-party candidates or staying at home come Election Day. 

Mrs. Clinton has peddled policies that resonate with Millennials (college affordability, income inequality, and campaign finance reform), in addition to dispatching the Vermont senator and other Millennial whisperers including the Obamas and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D) of Massachusetts to be her surrogates on the campaign trail.

But experts on Millennials and politics disagree over whether this is the best plan of attack for Clinton to win over voters under 30. Some claim it is. Young voters care as much about policies as any other age group, they say. It's important to remind them how much is at risk if they vote for Libertarian or Green Party candidates, or protest the election.

Others argue Clinton must appeal to this groups' pathos.

"It may seem like pandering to roll out new plans about college affordability because you see your poll numbers are sagging in an age group," David Burstein, the 27-year-old founder and chief executive of Run for America, an organization that uses social media and data science to recruit and support leaders' bids for office, tells The Christian Science Monitor in a phone interview.

"She should spend more of her personal time just talking with young voters, and being in casual environments with young voters like town halls."

Clinton is expected to do just that at the event in a field house at the University of New Hampshire on Wednesday. In a statement, her campaign said it is a "rally and discussion" about her plan to make college more affordable, which "includes enabling all students with family income up to $125,000 to attend an in-state public college or university tuition-free."

Throughout September, Clinton and her team of surrogates have spoken about her plan to make college debt-free, including at an event at Temple University in Philadelphia last week. Ahead of Clinton's speech there, Jennifer Palmieri, her communications director, acknowledged the campaign must do more than just warn voters why not to vote for Trump. 

"The Millennial generation is a key voting bloc in this election, and it's clear that the campaign must do more to earn their vote," said Ms. Palmieri.

Morley Winograd, co-author of two books about Millennials, and president and chief executive of the nonprofit Campaign for Free College Tuition, believes Wednesday's event is the right way to accomplish this goal. In a phone interview with the Monitor, he acknowledges Clinton's approach has been "policy laden." She lacks Mr. Sander's seemingly perfect blend of "message and messenger" that won him more Millennial votes in the primaries than President Obama did in 2008. Yet, her partnership with Sanders on the trail has been an effective way to combine her and Sanders's distinct appeal to Millennials, says Mr. Winograd.  

College affordability is an important issue for young voters, but not the most important. The Pew Research Center found in July that education ranked high among voting issues for Americans aged 18-34, with 67 percent of them saying it is "very important" to them. However, education ranked sixth on this list. The economy was first (80 percent), and the treatment of racial and ethnic minorities was second (74 percent).

Clinton addressed these topics in a contribution she wrote for Mic, a media website that targets Millennials. In the op-ed published Sept. 19, Clinton emphasized the importance of addressing income inequality and providing early education opportunities. But the article and an appearance on the satirical web series "Between Two Ferns" came after national and state polls showed a slide among voters under 35 when third-party candidates Gary Johnson and Jill Stein were included

A national poll by Quinnipiac University showed Clinton would receive 31 percent of the vote among voters under 35, a 5-point lead over Trump. This is a falloff from the 24-point lead Clinton held over Trump in August, with 48 percent of that vote.

Clinton surrogates have warned against the threat of a vote for Mr. Johnson or Ms. Stein. But they have also targeted their attention at a no-vote. 

"Let's be clear, elections are not just about who votes, but who does not vote," first lady Michelle Obama said at George Mason University in Virginia earlier this month. "And that is especially true for young people, like all of you."

"This is not reality TV. Democracy is not a spectator sport," said President Obama at a campaign appearance in Philadelphia. "You don't Tweet in your vote."

Both Morley and Mr. Burstein of Run for America said Millennials not showing up to vote is a real possibility come Nov. 8. But Morley said the strategies the Clinton campaign has started to roll out are just the beginning. 

Morley, who chaired Al Gore's presidential primary campaign in Michigan in 1988, expects the Clinton campaign to start reminding voters of the impact of a third-party or no-vote. He predicts the campaign will stress the influence the next president could have on the Supreme Court. 

"It will obviously crescendo as we head into the election," he says. 

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