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

    I think Mrs. Clinton would make a great president.

    March 22, 2014 06:27 pm at 6:27 pm |
  2. Nopeopepo

    No.

    March 22, 2014 06:41 pm at 6:41 pm |
  3. Vaiocodered

    Hillary's presidency would be too much like the neocon agenda.... I am alarmed by the surveillance state and the concentration of federal powers. I'm a millennial and I say no thanks! I think Rand Paul is more liberal anyhow on issues important to me. I like to keep my freedom to start a business and do what I want with minimal government intervention.

    March 22, 2014 06:49 pm at 6:49 pm |
  4. Chris Asking Question

    Why would young people vote for an old woman?

    March 22, 2014 09:03 pm at 9:03 pm |
  5. Anonymous

    This is Hillary's ploy to snag the ignorant youth vote, at least what's left of it after obama's scorched earth policy has torched them with the twin fires of unemployment and obamacare. Still, Hillary will get the 18-21 year old vote because they haven't been vomited out of the university system yet into what's life of the economy like their slightly older brethren.

    March 22, 2014 10:14 pm at 10:14 pm |
  6. asok asus

    This is Hillary's ploy to snag the ignorant youth vote, at least what's left of it after obama's scorched earth policy has torched them with the twin fires of unemployment and obamacare. Still, Hillary will get the 18-21 year old vote because they haven't been vomited out of the university system yet into what's life of the economy like their slightly older brethren.

    March 22, 2014 10:14 pm at 10:14 pm |
  7. hanlu

    The board of election should not even approve rodham Hillary Clinton to run for president .she may just develop another brain aneurysm when she receive that so important phone call in the middle of the night when it comes to saving my friends and family members from a terrorist attack none of us can forget the famous four her and her husband have both been held on trial for their action .the couple is not the peaches and cream that the eye of the public sees they are not the module citizens they are made out to be why even give them the chance t o embezzle money from the general public for their retirement and don't forget that Hillary was adopted .

    March 22, 2014 10:37 pm at 10:37 pm |
  8. amazed

    Yes she will win huge and make Obama's victory look like a squeaker. 350 electoral votes twice.

    March 22, 2014 10:45 pm at 10:45 pm |
  9. BadBoy

    If you are one of those poor fools who would vote for Clinton, why worry about preserving your Obamacare? You`re already brain dead.

    March 22, 2014 11:28 pm at 11:28 pm |
  10. Marcin

    I voted for Obama when I was 18. Never again another democrap who can only spit a good game but do nothing.

    March 22, 2014 11:35 pm at 11:35 pm |
  11. Thomas

    Will Bill and Hillary sleep in the same room at the White house ?

    March 23, 2014 12:01 am at 12:01 am |
  12. dave

    NO! She is uninspiring to the youth and minorities. This is why she will not even get the DNC nomination.

    March 23, 2014 03:29 am at 3:29 am |
  13. history repeats

    She nearly single handedly stopped a thurd all out invasion of the Palestinian Territories at a time when the arab spring movement would have provided huge military backlash to Israel. No matter who's side you were on concerning that precipice, she calmly and capably drew up, negotiated, and signed a deal between all parties within hours of landing. Possible WWIII averted and all anyone discusses is the cia debauchery in benghazi which completely outranked the state dept's safety or mission. She has my millennial, combat veteran vote.

    March 23, 2014 03:30 am at 3:30 am |
  14. dave

    Just another old.white politician with zero new ideas, and decades of baggage and proven lies. Why would the youth go out and vote for her? Without significant youth and minorities going out and voting (and heavily voting Democrat) the Democrats do NOT win. A much larger than normal voting percentage of this sector is why Obama won both elections. The voting stats PRO this beyond argument. It is the exact reason she will not end up running, or will not even get the DNC nomination.

    March 23, 2014 03:45 am at 3:45 am |
  15. matt ford

    Hillary has it in the bag. Who would pass on the first U.S. president with a va j j? Two firsts in two presidencies. Yeah America! We are going right over the cliff but Dang we look good doing it!

    March 23, 2014 07:37 am at 7:37 am |
  16. barbara

    If you think young voters and especially young women voters identify at all with Hillary, you are sadly mistaken.

    March 23, 2014 08:40 am at 8:40 am |
  17. Anonymous

    Never. She is a traitor. I would give reasons, but after all, "what does it matter"?

    March 23, 2014 09:14 am at 9:14 am |
  18. PKRipper

    "I remember landing under sniper fire. There was supposed to be some kind of a greeting ceremony at the airport, but instead we just ran with our heads down to get into the vehicles to get to our base."

    But that's not what happened, as demonstrated by CBS News video that shows Clinton arriving on the tarmac under no visible duress, and greeting a child who offers her a copy of a poem.

    March 23, 2014 09:35 am at 9:35 am |
  19. Joelscapes

    Here's hoping Hilary spends most of her campaign money and efforts on promoting climate change propaganda to youthful mush-minds in her upcoming presidency bid. Most of the rest of America sees the issue for what it is-bogus. Youthful mush-minds don't vote much, and even less during off-year elections. Hillary may secure their vote, but lose the election on this theme. Yet, it may be the best way to finally remove her from national politics.

    March 23, 2014 10:11 am at 10:11 am |
  20. Just

    The first black president thing worked right? Too bad the results are so poor. Wanna try again with a first woman thing? The USA could do much better than that.

    March 23, 2014 10:52 am at 10:52 am |
  21. Tom1940

    Hillary is too old. Her stint as Sect'y of State has a aura of "stench" about it that is not likely to go away. (Benghazi and all), with the failure to "look forward" to analyzing Russia and making the President Aware of what Putin was planning, (and has been planning since 2000). The "kum-baah-ahhh" of the Clinton Years has long since faded. The bloom is gone. She's now just a worn-out old war horse, who's time has came and now gone, and she should retire "gracefully" to be the "old matriarch" of the Dem. Party. The one, who at Democrat Conventions is acknowledged by a standing ovation for 3-minutes, then promptly forgotten for another 4-years. A person who's contentment should now be rocking her grand children(s) and talking baby-talk to them. Not out here making noise like she will be President.

    March 23, 2014 10:52 am at 10:52 am |
  22. Anonymous

    Pretty sad state of affairs ,when the democrats can't find anyone too run for president , They'll push Hillary into it because the party can't come up with anyone else , So it would be 4 or 8 more yrs . of basically the same agenda's and practices of whay we just have had ,Leaveing nothing getting done,besides fighting between the parties , ,more govt. handouts and the rest of the world getting to like us even less . In this whole country they can't come up with anyone with the guts to run that would work for the American people instead of special interests, Pretty Sad ...I voted for Hillary once ,but she lost me when she gave up the primary to someone that had no expierience in anything and it shows , Might as well vote for a republican ,Same crap different party ,

    March 23, 2014 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
  23. Namesayitlikeitis

    Great job Dems...another unqualified candidate for President. Shouldn't we vote for someone who has some experience in a real job? Dems expect that just because America voted for this President primarily because of his skin tone...we will now vote for Hilary because she's a woman! Give America a break and put a real candidate forward instead of this proven liar....geez...she can't even please Bill....

    March 23, 2014 12:14 pm at 12:14 pm |
  24. Rusty Nail

    With gay marriage front and center, republicans have zero chance of winning the presidency. But, another dem candidate could emerge like obama and take away delegates.

    March 23, 2014 12:56 pm at 12:56 pm |
  25. Monomachos

    Let's hope Americans will vote for someone who actually has meaningful experience as a manager and leader and has accomplished some good. That rules out Ms Clinton but it is not too late for the Democrats and and Republicans to find good candidates this time.

    March 23, 2014 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
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