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 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.

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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. emskadittle

    it is a certainty that she will be able to, Do you think the republican nominee can?

    March 23, 2014 01:26 pm at 1:26 pm |
  2. just asking

    she didn't pick up the phone when the 7pm phone call came in from americans under attack and being killed in benghazi. she has proven she is not a leader and capable of handling the job. and her russian reset fiasco? honestly, anybody thinking about voting in this proven failure needs their head examined.

    March 23, 2014 01:37 pm at 1:37 pm |
  3. Happy&Smart

    Many posts here and on FOX talking about how our country is in shambles. I find myself wondering what the dominant demographic group is with this point of view. DOW at all time high. Wealth disparity al all time high. If you are employed and have been wise in your financial decision making, you probably would find laying blame on the president difficult. Life is good. If, on the other hand you find yourself in over your head with financial responsibilities you can't see your way out of, easy to put the blame on the Democrats. At this point, it's really hard to see any moderate Republican getting through the side show that is the Republican Primary process. If Hillary runs, she wins by a huge margin.

    March 23, 2014 03:43 pm at 3:43 pm |
  4. Kristine

    I wonder how much $$$$ she is making from all these speeches?

    March 23, 2014 03:45 pm at 3:45 pm |
  5. Bob

    After Bush anyone smarter than a rock looks good.

    March 23, 2014 04:01 pm at 4:01 pm |
  6. Pablo

    I'm a millennial and I hate that we're all package as an autonomous voting block. Some issues we tend to be in agreement but others we are not. One major issue that IS a concern of my generation is jobs. With millions of millennials unemployed or underemployed we want a government to help create conditions for growth. The last 6 years has shown me that democrats know nothing about economics and their idea of winning votes is to buy the votes by giving handouts. You want votes? Give us good paying jobs! And not $10.10 minimum wage jobs! A decent job with salary and benefits so we can pay off our six figure student loans.

    March 23, 2014 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  7. mike

    Warren is my favorite national political figure (by far)– but mouthing off about her vs. Clinton does absolutely no good for her... or, more to the point, me and millions like me.
    If you really like Warren and want to do her (and you) some service that matters, make sure her party doesn't lose Senate control in the midterms. She can do a helluva lot more good in the agenda-setting majority than in a marginalized minority.

    March 23, 2014 04:49 pm at 4:49 pm |
  8. maggie

    What Clinton needs to do is bring her daughter on her campaign trail. She needs to show younger voters she's concerned about their issues. The best way to do this is have her daughter be a campaign ambassador for young voters. She can connect with them and talk about current issues concerning younger voters today. Cheers, Maggie

    March 23, 2014 08:03 pm at 8:03 pm |
  9. Maria Rivera-Carvalho

    Yes, and it goes beyond gender. She is attuned to the pressing needs and issues of today's world and is not interested in imposing her personal beliefs on anyone. Her amazing intelligence cannot be underestimated either. Do the Republicans have a candidate that comes close? Not, unless they go begging Jon Huntsman to return and restore sanity to the party, but I am not optimistic. No one can stop the lemmings' run to oblivion.

    March 23, 2014 08:21 pm at 8:21 pm |
  10. EdD

    Old woman wouldn't make it past her first year. She fell over due to being Sec of State. No way she'll handle POTUS.

    March 23, 2014 08:35 pm at 8:35 pm |
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