Why you should care
Because Clinton can’t win in November without millennials.
It’s time to break out the stethoscope on Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Indeed, some argue it’s well past time: Once again, the once-presumptive nominee has found her early momentum sputtering, with a likable senator threatening to upend the juggernaut.
Many have noted Clinton’s anemic performance among voters ages 18 to 29. Exit polls in Iowa, where she narrowly won the caucuses, showed she captured just 14 percent of that demographic, and in New Hampshire, her blowout loss to Bernie Sanders left her with 16 percent. But why does Clinton suffer a millennial deficiency? OZY has been trailing her on the ground, watching her closely, listening to observers and identifying some tiny moments that could cost her the nomination. Sure, she will likely win states like South Carolina, where crucial minority groups back her by a large margin, and she’s still favored to win the Democratic nomination. But if she wants to step into the Oval Office, “young voters will need to turn up” in November, says Scott Spradling, a New Hampshire–based political-messaging strategist.
Clinton’s mistakes are also often self-inflicted.
The problem isn’t effort. At New England College in Henniker, N.H., this weekend, the former first lady ditched her stump speech, let her hair down and tried to level with the millennials in a Q&A session. One of her first lines: “I want you to know that even if you don’t support me, I will support you,” she demurred, all well-intentioned enough, though it may have come across as condescending. As Jason Dorsey, who researches millennials at the Center for Generational Kinetics in Texas, puts it, she needs to appear “more ‘in it’ with millennials rather than ‘I’m your mom, and I know what is best for you.’ ”
After cheerily saying that she would take the hard questions in Henniker, Clinton received a doozy right out of the gate: How could she win the trust of people after Benghazi and those infamous e-mail investigations, asked 17-year-old Jack Lovell. Adding insult to injury? The teenager began his question by calling her “Secretary Sanders.” Worst of all, this has all happened before.
For all her sincerity about wanting to fight for the young’uns, Clinton still struggles to answer basic questions without seeming bent on self-preservation. (Her campaign didn’t respond to a request for comment.) On Benghazi, she blamed Republicans for a partisan witch hunt, which may be true but doesn’t help the perception that she’s untrustworthy, even stilted. And when she challenges Sanders by calling his quest for single-payer health care and tuition-free education unfeasible, some say she may benefit by taking a different tact with her younger crowds: “Millennials would much rather hear from you that your plan is better than hearing how pragmatic your approach is,” notes Dorsey.
At a recent stop, a curly-haired kid asked her why she wanted to be president. The “number one reason,” she said, “is to make sure that every little girl and boy in America has the chance to have the best possible life,” before quickly pivoting to her law career and a dense policy discussion that few children (or adults, for that matter) could easily follow. Compare that to how Republican Chris Christie reacted just a few days before at the very same venue when a 7-year-old asked how the Garden State governor would deal with ISIS. The typically brash bureaucrat lent a soft touch, asking the kid’s name and age and kept the conversation understandable while answering the question.
Clinton’s mistakes are also often self-inflicted. In Iowa, the 68-year-old scheduled a shared concert with millennial crooner Demi Lovato, whose song “Confident” has been riding high on radio airwaves. It was a prime audience for a presidential candidate: More than 500 college students gathered at the University of Iowa, already pumped up by a popular opening act and looking to be inspired. In previous stops, Clinton spoke for at least half an hour while detailing a meaty, though polished, pitch for her candidacy. Yet while she received plenty of cheers when she arrived on stage, Clinton spoke for barely five minutes. And many of those present were disappointed by her no-calorie speech.
For Clinton, missed opportunities are troublingly common. At another event during the campaign, a few hundred excited supporters had gathered at Simpson College in Des Moines. It seemed like Clinton had the perfect photo-op to show she could compete with Sanders for new voters. “She has the experience,” raved senior Angela Delariva, a Clinton fan and former president of the Simpson Democrats. Still, some of Clinton’s mistakes seem amateurish. When her handlers placed a few dozen folks behind her podium, all but two of them were much closer to retirement than college age. As the TV cameras rolled, viewers back home saw an old-school candidate surrounded by old-school supporters, unaware of the clamoring college crowd mere yards away. Watching from the audience, Simpson College political science professor Kedron Bardwell couldn’t believe his eyes. Shaking his head, he said: “That’s just terrible PR.”