Young voters would be key in a Hillary Clinton presidential race, but can she win them over?
March 21st, 2014
06:33 PM ET
9 months ago

Young voters would be key in a Hillary Clinton presidential race, but can she win them over?

Washington (CNN) - The Clinton family kicked off its Clinton Global Initiative-University conference at Arizona State University today, a long weekend of speeches and panels that focus on issues facing the college set and other young Americans.

It's exactly the bloc of voters Hillary Clinton will need backing her if she decides to run for president. But in 2008 she lost them by a large margin to Barack Obama. Some Republican strategists say it's a weakness that GOP opponents may try to exploit.

Working in Clinton's favor this cycle, polls show no other likely Democratic candidate has caught the attention of the so-called millennial generation – those born in the early 1980s and into the 2000s.

Some observers have suggested that populist darling and Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren could be a primary foil to Clinton with younger voters, as Obama was, but Warren insists she isn't running.

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Millennials are more inclined to identify with Democrats than Republicans, especially on issues like climate change, immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, free contraception as mandated by Obamacare and same sex marriage, which many millennials consider a litmus test for modernity.

"For young people, the issue of gay marriage is so settled they assume any enlightened person is going to be on their side," said SE Cupp, a conservative columnist and co-host of CNN's Crossfire.

In 2008, Clinton ran for president opposed to same-sex marriage (as then-Senator Obama did). She has since changed her position to favor same-sex marriage, as Obama did shortly before he was re-elected in 2012.

Clinton is trying to appeal to millennials

Clinton has opened up more of her speeches to the public recently, a number of them on college campuses, giving us a look at how she is trying to connect with young audiences.

At a recent speech at the University of Miami, Clinton, now an effective, if only occasional Twitter presence with well over a million followers, addressed a tech-savvy crowd that included more than three thousand students. One asked Clinton to explain the "TBD" in her Twitter bio, which many have inferred to be hint at a presidential run.

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"Well I would really like to, but I have no characters left. I will certainly ponder that," Clinton answered, to a round of laughs.

As she appealed to students to sign up for health insurance (young people are key to keeping costs down) she tailored her message to the younger audience.

"You want to try your hand at filmmaking, a startup," she pitched, "without disproportionate risk of something to you or your families."

She even took a selfie recently (granted, it was with Meryl Streep, who doesn't have the same cache with millennials as, say, Jennifer Lawrence).

Clinton also took one last year with her daughter, Chelsea who is essentially already playing the role of surrogate, talking to younger people and addressing the issues they care about at events like the South by Southwest Interactive Festival and the Human Rights Campaign's Inaugural Conference on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning Youth.

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One female student who attended Clinton's event at the University of Miami told CNN, "Age isn't a factor. It's how 'with it' you are. She's very with it." A male student chimed in that Clinton's age "wouldn't deter me from voting for her."

The generational difference between Clinton and millennials might be minimized by the fact that, for now at least, most are unaware of her real age.

A recent survey by USA Today and the Pew Research Center found that only one-third of adults under 30 believe Clinton is in her 60s. Sixty-six percent guessed that she is in her 50s or even her 40s.

Republicans could run a generational race against Clinton

Perception of Clinton's age could become more pronounced if she is compared to younger Republican contenders.

Looking at possible GOP opponents, many of them are much younger than Clinton. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie would be in their mid-50s come election day. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker will still be in their 40s.

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"I think it is inevitable that the Republican nominee tries to run a generational argument against Hillary Clinton," says Ron Brownstein, editorial director at Atlantic Media. "Having a nominee who is 69, that is a potential stress point. There's no way around it. She has to make herself appear relevant to these younger voters who are indispensable for Democrats as older Americans shift toward the GOP."

But Clinton's supporters reject the notion that Republicans could use her age against her, citing her ability to capitalize on the possibility of becoming the first female president.

"Ronald Reagan is the oldest person ever elected president; he got 60% of the youth vote. Hillary Clinton can make history. That excites young people," said Democratic strategist and CNN contributor Paul Begala. A generational argument by the GOP "will backfire on them like it did on the Democrats with Reagan."

Millennials disapprove of Obamacare, don't believe Clinton has new ideas

The USA Today/Pew survey showed just 49% of young Americans think Clinton has new ideas. Forty percent said she does not and 11% had no opinion.

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"Millennials' ideas of what it is to be a Democrat have changed," Cupp said, pointing to liberal Democrats who have burst onto the political scene in recent years like Warren, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, Texas gubernatorial candidate and state Sen. Wendy Davis, as well as California state senate candidate Sandra Fluke. "It's going to be very difficult [for Clinton] to package herself as very new."

Clinton's backing of Obamacare and her experience spearheading her husband's failed effort to pass similar legislation during his time in the White House may also work against her.

While many young voters like certain provisions of the law, they generally disapprove of it in numbers similar to older generations. Only 4 in 10 approve of Obamacare in the USA Today/Pew survey.

Clinton is heeding that concern, recently speaking in support of making changes to the law.

"Part of the challenge is to clear away all the smoke and try to figure out what is working and what isn't," she said during a paid speech in Orlando. "What do we need to do to try to fix this? Because it would be a great tragedy, in my opinion, to take away what has now been provided."

Clinton could need to make up ground with millennials on an economic message, parlaying the economic good times of her husband's presidency into an effective appeal to young voters who are anxious about their economic futures

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"The 90s are now a selling point. The median income is lower today than on the day Bill Clinton left office," said Brownstein, adding that Clinton must make that argument to young voters. "Democrats can't win without running really well among millennials."


Filed under: 2016 • Hillary Clinton
soundoff (85 Responses)
  1. Gurgyl

    Yes, she is charismatic. Yes, on Hillary16.
    PS: Bill Clinton has lot of clout, the Best President in USA history. Kenneth Starr bs is just a story made by GOP idiots.

    March 21, 2014 06:56 pm at 6:56 pm |
  2. Jeff Brown in Jersey

    Let's get serious now. How many young people, blacks, Latinos, women, gays, and working poor who don't live in the deep south will vote for a Republican? This will be the mother of all routs.

    March 21, 2014 07:15 pm at 7:15 pm |
  3. Eddie Haskell

    Yeah, college kids are frothing at the mouth to vote for Ayn Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Rick "Google" Santorum, Newt Gingrich and "half" Governor Sarah Palin.

    March 21, 2014 07:19 pm at 7:19 pm |
  4. CALIFORNIA

    She's not in the best of health to say the least. Obamacare can't even save her now.

    March 21, 2014 08:02 pm at 8:02 pm |
  5. Liz the First

    Let's hope enough young people are wise enough to vote for the party that looks to the future, not the one stuck in the past and bound and determined to drag us back to the 50's, the 1850s! most young people don't buy into the hate and greed that are the foundations of the republican party. they realize what's happening with the planet and who's working to try to save it and who have their heads buried in the sand. they respect diversity and don't tolerate bigotry. the only way repugs can win over the majority of young voters is to totally lie to them about what they believe. but someone on the 'right' always screws up and shows his party's true colors. they can't help themselves.

    March 21, 2014 08:22 pm at 8:22 pm |
  6. HenryMiller

    Well, let's see...

    So-called "millennials" are rejecting Obamacare in droves, and Hillarycare would have been even more draconian and freedom-robbing— it would have flat outlawed medical services delivered outside of government-controlled medicine. Many of us remember that era, and thus remember Hillary's worse-than-Obamacare approach, and we'll make sure the "millennials" hear about it.

    March 21, 2014 08:34 pm at 8:34 pm |
  7. Rick McDaniel

    Why would young voters vote for a 69 yr woman, who hasn't proven she is good at anything?????

    March 21, 2014 08:45 pm at 8:45 pm |
  8. Tom

    Dems do very well with the dumb-as-bricks crowd. So I believe she will prevail..yay!!

    March 21, 2014 09:03 pm at 9:03 pm |
  9. Randy, San Francisco

    Hillary has the star power and message, something sorely lacking in the Republican Tea Party presidential pool. Hillary will smash the glass ceiling in 2016!

    March 21, 2014 09:26 pm at 9:26 pm |
  10. Chris-E...al

    I dont think young men and women will vote for hillary clinton . She is a mirror image of 0bama an besides she's over the hill and they have'nt did anything for the economy to create jobs and the kiddos are on a much much higher level than the dems even on a good day for sure !

    March 21, 2014 10:15 pm at 10:15 pm |
  11. Werlions

    God...I hope not! She is brutal.....

    March 21, 2014 11:24 pm at 11:24 pm |
  12. Bernard obryant

    it ok if clinton dont make broken promist they just dont keep happyiness is greatfulness

    March 22, 2014 01:52 am at 1:52 am |
  13. Red

    Yeah, it should be really tough to wrest away the young voters from someone like Jeb Bush or Rand Paul.

    March 22, 2014 01:53 am at 1:53 am |
  14. bitty31985

    Well since you asked..NO she can't

    March 22, 2014 03:20 am at 3:20 am |
  15. Harold Read

    For Hillary to capture the young vote, CNN needs to run a new Hillary story every day, evert hour. The generation that has grown up with Facebook and Twitter is used to getting new and fresh information on an instant basis. More Hillary stories!

    March 22, 2014 05:48 am at 5:48 am |
  16. Logictox

    Can Clinton win over younger voters? NO. They got fooled by the man of color, let's hope they put their brains in gear for this one.

    March 22, 2014 07:42 am at 7:42 am |
  17. Winkaz

    Are you serious.She is old and supposedly retired as secretary of state due to health issues and scandals.Now what in any way or reason would anyone vote for her is just beyond insanity.Really people I think the media is pushing for something but she isn't the leader for our country and should never be.Their is alot of other better options then her.I don't care if there Democrats or Conservative or the GOP I want a real leader not a media puppet that the media makes them look like some Hollywood star.Really?Sometimes I wonder what Walter Cronkite would think if the news reporting now day's.

    March 22, 2014 07:45 am at 7:45 am |
  18. Brian bird

    I would like to see bill clintons wife as presedent in2016

    March 22, 2014 08:23 am at 8:23 am |
  19. Pete

    Young voters aren't worried about Hillarys past as much as the GOP is..They want someone who supports gay marriages,equal tights and promoting youth something the GOP ignorents have failed to do..Remember after the primaries the republicans will be so beatup they'll hate facing Hillary in the final round and it'll be over before it gets started..

    March 22, 2014 08:55 am at 8:55 am |
  20. Tampa Tim

    I am beginning to think that the republican love affair with Putin, is because Putin will achieve in Russia, something republicans have been trying to do to us for 35 years, bankrupt our country.

    March 22, 2014 09:10 am at 9:10 am |
  21. wise guy

    Much better picture madame president.

    March 22, 2014 09:21 am at 9:21 am |
  22. Holy Batman

    One word. No. Because she's not a tech savvy since this time is the technology era. That's the problem.

    March 22, 2014 09:37 am at 9:37 am |
  23. kcyankee

    The assumption that young people would vote for a right wing fool like Rand or Rubio just because they are young(ish) way underestimates the young voter.

    March 22, 2014 09:39 am at 9:39 am |
  24. Lizzie

    As she appealed to students to sign up for health insurance (young people are key to keeping costs down) she tailored her message to the younger audience.
    Did she forget, that they are on their parents insurance until 26.

    March 22, 2014 10:12 am at 10:12 am |
  25. Kelly

    Flip flops more than a trout on the boat deck........... That's Hillary!

    March 22, 2014 11:08 am at 11:08 am |
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