Young voters would be key in a Hillary Clinton presidential race, but can she win them over?
March 21st, 2014
06:33 PM ET
4 years 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. GOP = Greed Over People

    At least HRC is in the party that took the middle man out of student loans.

    The GOP wanted to keep the "private sector" in the equation and call it "capitalism"!

    March 22, 2014 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  2. Sam

    I will pass this election, unless they have a younger more interesting candidate. Hillary is to old for my taste, she is not progressive enough for me.

    March 22, 2014 12:05 pm at 12:05 pm |
  3. don in albuquerque

    The the lineup the right has so far I think you should get used to saying Madam President.

    March 22, 2014 12:09 pm at 12:09 pm |
  4. Tony

    HenryMiller, many of us also remember that the Republican answer to Hillarycare was the individual mandate. Back then, Republicans liked the individual mandate–the idea that everyone should be required to buy health insurance– very much, because it was their idea, before Obama stole the idea from them.

    March 22, 2014 12:12 pm at 12:12 pm |
  5. Expat American

    If the Democrats mobilize their ground campaign and their voters as they did in 2008 and 2012; and if the GOP continues their knee jerk opposition to The President devoid of any substance; and if the GOP nominates another Palin then Hillary will be the next President of the United States.

    March 22, 2014 12:21 pm at 12:21 pm |
  6. Ward Cleaver
    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 !

    I see you are a wordsmith!

    March 22, 2014 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  7. Fair is Fair

    I don't like some of her decisions, but I think she is a fine human being. I might vote for her.

    March 22, 2014 12:36 pm at 12:36 pm |
  8. Steve

    I wouldn't. We need someone who will fix the foreign policy that she helped to create.

    March 22, 2014 12:43 pm at 12:43 pm |
  9. mileswhoward

    If Hillary Clinton is the 2016 Democratic nominee, then I'm voting for a third party candidate. Gender progressivism is not enough to compensate for Clinton's decidedly right-wing record when it comes to foreign policy and financial regulation. Pro-Clinton feminists: I want the same thing as you do, but please, let's throw our support behind a candidate who won't hand over the last remaining keys of our country to Wall Street and the Pentagon.

    March 22, 2014 01:18 pm at 1:18 pm |
  10. mileswhoward

    I voted for Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton in the 2008 primaries because I was repelled by Clinton's positions on financial regulation and foreign policy. There's no way in hell I'm voting for her in 2016. I don't care if she's a woman: giving her the oval office – under the false banner of "progress" – would be the equivalent of handing the last remaining keys of our country to Wall Street and the Pentagon.

    Now if Elizabeth Warren were running (even though she probably couldn't win), I'd be volunteering at the campaign phone banks every weekend.

    March 22, 2014 01:21 pm at 1:21 pm |
  11. Silence DoGood

    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..
    The GOP is worried and will be fanning the flames of the wacky conspiracy theory folks. Ms.Clinton has stood for and acted on progressive values for years with many obvious accomplishments. But get ready for the onslaught. Instead of actual facts and verifiable accusations, we'll have Benghazi, sickness rumor, Vince Foster, and then probably BigFoot and the Illuminati. From Area 51. It's all they have.

    March 22, 2014 01:24 pm at 1:24 pm |
  12. Gunderson

    Aw, Humm,
    Whazzat? Will Hillary win over the young crowd? It was the young crowd that Obama won over. Since they have been badly burned by, "We're the one you have been waiting for" they unfortunetly have grown up and will not repeat that mistake. Very bad for democrats.
    In fact a lot of them will not show up in 2016. Especially if they have no job.

    March 22, 2014 01:31 pm at 1:31 pm |
  13. Name

    No thank vote for hillary clinton cause she was lied story what happened about four murder at benzhinia
    If she will be presdient then terrorist will keep hide other place in 2016

    March 22, 2014 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  14. Don

    Vince Foster and Amb. Stephens would agree. But, OOPS, they are DEAD!

    March 22, 2014 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
  15. getoverit

    No more old, rich, white people. Vote Hillary!

    – liberals.

    March 22, 2014 01:51 pm at 1:51 pm |
  16. Pitchforker

    Hey kids, vote for me and I will bring you rest.

    March 22, 2014 01:53 pm at 1:53 pm |
  17. Jlvtav

    I just don't understand how anyone could vote for this woman, really what has she done in politics that really mounts to anything???
    We have to get away from fanatical fan politics and actually look at what candidates stand for and vote in he issues and not what letter is behind their name.

    March 22, 2014 02:32 pm at 2:32 pm |
  18. Tony in Maine

    @Kelly – kinda like Romney, eh?

    March 22, 2014 02:40 pm at 2:40 pm |
  19. rla

    Clinton, reid pelosi– Look at their faces and tell me that the youth are going to vote for them??? They are all wizled up over the hill progressives who are close to being dead- Youth vote –NO WAY

    March 22, 2014 02:47 pm at 2:47 pm |
  20. KathleenPappWhiteRock

    Im canadian and wish i was american so i could vote for clinton.

    March 22, 2014 03:08 pm at 3:08 pm |
  21. danicalifornia

    Why would Millenials vote for her? Don't they want to become successful? If they vote for more of the D's policies and mantra of shared responsibilities, all that hard earn money will be given to all those unsuccessful programs that the government wants to hand out. Yup – keep people down by given them handouts. It hasn't worked in over 50 years. Governments don't create jobs, the private sector does. As for criticism that Republicans are rich, well look around, Democrats are rich too. This country is in debt. We need to hear the truth. Those Millenials will be paying the tab for all these programs whether they like it or not. Wake up – it's almost too late already. Ask Hillary and Bill how much they charge for their speaking engagments? They are worth over $100 million – nice for a guy who only worked in government. The Clintons only care about the Clintons. Please, wake up!

    March 22, 2014 03:43 pm at 3:43 pm |
  22. mememine69

    32 years of climate blame and needless panic and CO2 death threats to billions of innocent children is the democrat's Iraq War without a real enemy. How can it not be judged as a pure war crime in the history books. You doomers blindly exaggerated sciences consensus of "uncertainty" and nothing beyond; "could be". Prove me wrong.
    Without a scientific consensus of "certainty" (like smoking and cancer and their "proven evolution), a progressive's "belief" in certainty of a crisis is no better than how Bush fear mongered his false wars.

    March 22, 2014 04:17 pm at 4:17 pm |
  23. Name

    God I hope not. This democrat crap is getting old.

    March 22, 2014 05:08 pm at 5:08 pm |
  24. Silence DoGood

    32 years of climate blame and needless panic and CO2 death threats to billions of innocent children is the democrat's Iraq War.... exaggerated sciences consensus of "uncertainty" and nothing beyond; "could be"....Without a scientific consensus of "certainty" (like smoking and cancer and their "proven evolution)
    1776 – a group of people, inventors, philosophers, visionaries, scientists formed a new nation. Now in the present time, look at the myths and conspiracy theories and loose thinking we have. Benjamin Franklin, I am so sorry. God help us.

    March 22, 2014 06:02 pm at 6:02 pm |
  25. Silence DoGood

    Vince Foster and Amb. Stephens would agree. But, OOPS, they are DEAD!
    Don't worry when we get past the Illuminati guard and open Big Foot's locker in Area 51, we will finally get the truth.

    March 22, 2014 06:07 pm at 6:07 pm |
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