US Elections 2016

Clinton struggling to win over young voters

It's hard to reach them and overcome their preference for third-party candidates

Young voters in Columbia, South Carolina watching Monday's debate between Mrs Clinton and Mr Trump. About 75 million millennials are eligible to vote in the coming election.
Young voters in Columbia, South Carolina watching Monday's debate between Mrs Clinton and Mr Trump. About 75 million millennials are eligible to vote in the coming election.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

NEW YORK • With the US presidential election just six weeks away, younger voters are shunning the two major political parties on a scale not seen since Mr Ross Perot's third-party bid for the White House in 1992, a striking swing in public opinion that is slicing into Mrs Hillary Clinton's thin margin for error.

Though young people are notoriously fickle about showing up at the polls, they are a growing and potentially pivotal bloc of voters.

Millennials now outnumber baby boomers as the country's largest generation. And while they may be more predisposed than other groups to vote Democratic, they are not moving towards the party and its nominee as quickly and predictably as they had in past elections.

The Clinton campaign held several events on Wednesday aimed at millennials, underscoring the urgency with which it is working to lock down the group of about 75 million Americans. Mrs Clinton travelled to New Hampshire with her former rival, Senator Bernie Sanders, for a rally with college students. The First Lady Michelle Obama visited campuses in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

Though Mrs Clinton is riding high after a strong debate performance on Monday, she has a lot of ground to make up. Several factors are complicating the huge task of registering and turning out millennials, the 18- to 34-year-olds who are already hard to reach because their media consumption habits do not lend themselves to traditional television-focused campaigns.

And in what is one of the most difficult barriers for Mrs Clinton to break through, young people often display little understanding of how a protest vote for a third-party candidate, or not voting at all, can alter the outcome of a close election. The vast majority of millennials were not old enough to vote in 2000, when Green Party nominee Ralph Nader, with young voters' strong backing, helped cost Vice-President Al Gore the presidency.

Echoing sentiments among many young people, Mr David Frasier, a junior at Charleston Southern University, said he felt powerless to bring about change through voting. "I don't feel like we have control. I kind of feel like this whole election is just playing the American people."

Mrs Clinton's weakness with young voters is almost entirely due to the draw that third-party candidates have. Mr Donald Trump's support among the young has hovered around 25 per cent in recent polls.

More than a third of voters aged 18 to 29 said in the latest New York Times/CBS News poll they would vote for either Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson or Green Party candidate Jill Stein. Given the choice of just Mrs Clinton and Mr Trump, 10 per cent said they would not vote at all - double that of any other age group.


The Clinton campaign has accelerated its aggressive courting of young voters.

But it is a hard sell. Mr Nick Chanko, 20, for instance, is a student in Montreal who plans to vote in his home state, New York. A registered Democrat, he said he would vote for Dr Stein or not vote at all. "I feel like a lot of the stuff Hillary does, you can see when she is trying to like earn the youth vote, and it just doesn't work," he said.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 01, 2016, with the headline 'Clinton struggling to win over young voters'. Print Edition | Subscribe