Why support for Clinton is surging among Millennials

Support for Hillary Clinton is steadily rising among adults ages 18 to 30, with 60 percent of likely young voters now saying they'd vote for the Democratic nominee. 

Carlos Barria/Reuters/File
Students listen to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton as she speaks during a campaign event at Temple University in Philadelphia, Penn. on Sept. 19, 2016.

In the months leading up to the election, Hillary Clinton has tweeted emojis, penned an essay for Mic, deadpanned with Zach Galifianakis, and appeared on stage with former Democratic rival Sen. Bernie Sanders to discuss the cost of a college education. 

Now, it would appear as though her intensified efforts to reach out to Millennial voters, a demographic she's struggled to woo throughout her campaign, have finally paid off. A new GenForward poll shows a sharp uptick in support for Mrs. Clinton among Americans ages 18 to 30, with the Democratic nominee now on track to receive as much support from Millennials as Barack Obama did in 2012. Sixty percent of respondents, surveyed in the first half of October, now say they would vote for her. 

Support has risen especially among white Millennials, who just one month prior were split evenly between Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump, with both pulling in about 27 percent. Now, 35 percent of young whites say they would vote for Clinton, and 21 percent for Trump. 

But Millennials, academics, and pollsters alike all hesitate to attribute the increase to Clinton's efforts to appear more relatable to Millennial voters, which are widely written off by young people as inauthentic. Instead, they say, the shift in support for Clinton can be traced to a combination of factors, including a new focus on issues that matter to young Americans, an influential lineup of surrogates, and a growing realization that she is the only likely alternative to Donald Trump – a candidate with far lower favorability ratings among Millennials. 

"Over time, young voters have really come to think that Gary Johnson doesn’t represent their interests, that [Green Party candidate] Jill Stein is not going to win, and that the stakes are very high in this election," Cathy Cohen, a political scientist at the University of Chicago and the lead author of the new study, told Vox. "And while they still don’t have great love for Clinton, it looks like they’ve decided to vote for her." 

As David Burstein, the 28-year-old founder of Run for America, an organization that uses social media and data science to recruit and support leaders' bids for office, puts it: "The choice has never been more clear, but it's also never been more disappointing." 

"More votes will be cast by a significant amount for Hillary," Mr. Burstein predicts in a phone interview with The Christian Science Monitor. "But she hasn’t really won over the hearts or minds of this generation." Therefore, he believes, the rise in support is "almost exclusively a function of the election getting closer, and people realizing there's no other option," a realization that has been spurred in the past month by the three televised presidential debates. 

The successful exception to Clinton's outreach efforts, in Burstein's opinion, is her campaign's heavy use of surrogates in recent months – a strategy that political analysts also point to as her most effective. 

Surrogates such as President Obama, first lady Michelle, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, (D) of Massachusetts, are "excellent spokespersons" for reaching the youngest generation of voters, says Morley Winograd, senior fellow at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School’s Center on Communication Leadership and Policy and co-author of "Millennial Momentum: How A New Generation Is Remaking America," in a phone interview with the Monitor.

He also attributes the rise in support in part to the Clinton campaign's efforts to reach out to young voters on social media. 

"Persuading those on the fence is a key part of that data-driven, social-media-activated voter turnout effort," Mr. Winograd says. "And since there is none on the part of the Trump campaign and a minimal amount from the Republican Party …. you’re beginning to see that make a difference." Between the high-profile surrogates and the campaign's use of social media, he adds, "they're delivering both the message and the messengers" to best appeal to Millennials.

The support of Senator Sanders, who won more than 80 percent of the young vote in some states during the Democratic primary, has been especially crucial, says Andrew Baumann, a senior researcher with the Global Strategy Group and Democratic pollster. 

Many Millennial voters, particularly those too young to remember Clinton's time as a senator or first lady, were "introduced to her through the lens of the primary campaign for Sen. Sanders," Mr. Baumann says in a phone interview. "Now," as she has begun to put a greater emphasis on issues that young voters consider a top priority, such as college debt, with the backing of Sanders, "they've sort of had the chance to see her through this very different lens."

Media coverage of the candidates, which intensifies in the 30 days leading up to the election, may have also played a role in the upswing, says Alison Novak, author of "Media, Millennials, and Politics: The Coming of Age of the Next Political Generation." 

"[The media] focus a lot more on the polls, blunders, and any looming controversies," says Dr. Novak in an email to the Monitor. "It's at this point in the election cycle, where the 'any news is good news' mentality has to change, and candidates need to be more careful about their image in the media."

"Although Clinton isn't immune to her fair share of problems," she adds, "Trump has clearly dominated the controversy category."

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