Hillary Clinton Lost Millennials in a Landslide. Here's How She Can Win Them Back.
The primaries came to an end Tuesday, with a resounding win for Hillary Clinton in Washington, D.C. On Thursday evening, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont vowed to soldier on, but he also promised in a teleconference to work with Clinton to ensure the Democratic Party "becomes a party of working people and young people." With Clinton leading by 387 pledged delegates, she has solidified her position as the presumptive Democratic nominee.
That doesn't, however, mean she's locked up a crucial voting population: millennials.
One of the more confounding questions of the primaries has been why Clinton has fared so poorly with young voters. For the Clinton campaign, the numbers leave little room for optimism: In contest after contest, Sanders has defeated Clinton among millennials, and at times, by margins of support even higher than President Barack Obama enjoyed back in 2008. Overall, Sanders has beaten Clinton 71% to 28% with voters under 30 in the Democratic primaries, compared to Obama's 60%-35% margin over Clinton in 2008.
Her inability to inspire the next generation has left pundits and pollsters scratching their heads, so much so that presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump now suggests this key demographic is up for grabs — despite his many policy proposals that would seem to offend millennials' progressive sensibilities. Moreover, the rise of the #BernieOrBust movement has led some to suggest there's simply nothing Clinton can do to reverse the tide.
I've found just the opposite. Over the past year, I've traveled across the country, interviewing millennial voters on the issues they care deeply about, attending dozens of political rallies and watching the growth of the #FeelTheBern movement firsthand. What's clear is that despite Sanders' unique millennial appeal, young people remain a fertile constituency for Clinton as she turns her attention to Trump.
There is nothing inherently polarizing about Clinton for young voters, and she can indeed mobilize this key part of Sanders' (and Obama's) coalition as she takes on the presumptive Republican nominee. Indeed, she has already shown strength with black and Latino millennials, and according to a recent poll conducted by MTV, 57% of Sanders' supporters would vote for Clinton (though another 18% said they would not vote at all). But doing so will require a dramatic departure from her current approach to reaching millennials.
Here are four things she could do to make inroads:
1. Lean into her experience.
There was a moment not long ago — in March 2011, to be precise — when Clinton's approval rating soared to 66%. While those figures may have had a great deal to do with her serving in a less partisan Cabinet role, it's no coincidence that around that time, a meme — Texts from Hillary — took the internet by storm, underlining the extent to which Clinton could seemingly do no wrong on the internet.
Hillary the badass. Hillary, the woman who's accomplished more than you. Hillary, the seasoned veteran who's traveled to more countries and dealt with more world leaders than almost any other person in recent memory. The internet was smitten with a woman who has held nearly every key position in government and who could therefore be trusted during times of crisis.
That sensibility has seemingly vanished. During her many debates throughout the primaries, Clinton could have run circles around Sanders on matters of foreign policy. Yet, she often seemed to get bogged down, forced to defend minutiae — such as her relationship with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger — rather than paint her vision of the world supported by her global affairs expertise.
That changed only recently, when Clinton delivered a powerful national security address to near-universal acclaim, in which she eviscerated Trump and leaned into her experience. It was the first time the Clinton encapsulated by Texts From Hillary made an appearance in the campaign. Clinton would be wise to continue this course.
2. Better articulate how her presidency will differ from Barack Obama.
Clinton has spent the primary season hugging Obama close — showering praise on her former boss and articulating repeatedly how she'll continue his legacy as president. For the primaries, that strategy made perfect sense — appeal to the base and tap into Obama's 82% approval rating among the Democratic base.
But now we're in a general election. If she's going to win over young people, Clinton must better articulate what young voters can expect to be different about her presidency than the Obama years. If there's anything to learn from Sanders' rise, it's that a large percentage of millennials — just as other demographics — have grown increasingly disenchanted with Washington, feeling as though politics are even more broken today than when Obama took office.
Counterintuitive as it may seem, Clinton needs to clearly articulate how her presidency will be different than Obama's. Why will she have more success in reaching across the aisle in getting gun safety laws passed? How will her strategy to defeat ISIS be more effective than our current course? Why will government be less dysfunctional with Clinton at the helm?
This is a woman who has spent decades crafting an intimate knowledge of government. Clinton should talk openly about why she will be able to succeed in the areas where Obama fell short.
3. Experiment more with social and digital media.
By all accounts, Clinton is fantastic in small groups, but less compelling when delivering major speeches to large crowds. In a revealing moment from a recent interview with New York magazine, Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell offered the following advice:
"If I were Hillary's chief of staff, I'd get her on as many of those interview shows as I could and just get her talking and not reading a speech. I'd have her do town meetings all through her presidency. Have you seen her in small town halls? Hillary is not a great large-crowd speaker, but in those contexts, I would rate her as close to spectacular."
Despite assembling an impressive digital and social team on her campaign — many of whom helped put Obama in the White House — Clinton has taken surprisingly few risks when it comes to leveraging digital media to reach voters ("Delete your account" tweet being a rare exception).
One of the core lessons of Obama's two victories is that engaging millennials in nontraditional ways pays off. Clinton should experiment with new digital platforms, just as Obama has done on "Between Two Ferns," "Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee" and Anthony Bourdain's "Parts Unknown." She should take advantage of new tools like Facebook Live, messenger bots and Periscope and also participate in online town halls using Reddit AMAs or more Facebook Q&As, like the one she did last July. These strategies would help Clinton translate her message to new audiences and reach millennials where they are.
4. Go bold on her choice for VP.
Finally, Clinton has an opportunity to energize millennials with her vice presidential pick. But that will require her to take a risk. She is rumored to be highly considering Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, among others — a trusted hand with extensive experience who could help her win Virginia, a key swing state.
But he's boring. If Clinton's goal is to energize young voters, she should take a hard look at an outside-the-box candidate like Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Warren has led the fight against student debt in Congress, has a penchant for social media and has high approval ratings among Democrats. As an outspoken progressive, Warren would be a risky choice, but exactly the kind of candidate who would help Clinton break through with Sanders voters and inspire millennials to come to the polls in November.
Lest there be any doubt about their importance, millennials have overtaken the baby boomers as the single-largest generation and biggest voting bloc in the United States. If Clinton inspires them to come out to vote in the same numbers as they did for Obama, Trump's path to victory becomes much more difficult.