At the historically black Paul Quinn College in Texas, students recently got together for what was dubbed a black girl magic roundtable to talk about the importance of black millennial women in the 2016 election.
At Temple University in Pennsylvania, Uzo Aduba, an actress on the hit TV show “Orange Is the New Black,” made a surprise visit to a tailgate party to urge young people to register to vote in Pennsylvania.
And near the University of Cincinnati in Ohio, singer John Legend performed at a club to stress the importance of the presidential race.
In the final weeks leading to Election Day, Hillary Clinton’s campaign is organizing a slew of events to appeal to millennials –the roughly 75 million young voters under 35 who are for the first time America’s largest voting bloc but who still can’t seem to commit to her.
In 2008, 51 percent of voters ages 18-29 cast ballots. In 2012, 45 percent of them voted.
“I spend a lot of time talking with and listening to young people,” Clinton said at a recent rally at Wayne State University in Detroit. “And I know that it is sometimes a little bit challenging to figure out what is going on. Who should I believe? What do I need to know? But trust your heart. Trust your heart, because if we work together, we can make this country what we know it will be and should be.”
Her campaign is spending $30 million on digital ads on Twitter, Spotify and Pandora, among other places; writing guest columns for POPSUGAR, which caters to women 18-34; engaging in Facebook Live chats; and focusing on issues important to young people such as college debt, criminal justice and climate change. And her staff is traveling to venues where millennials are known to gather: not just college campuses, but athletic shoe stores, barbershops and nail salons.
“Millennials do not want to be talked at,” said Christopher Huntley, Clinton’s director of millennial media. “They want folks to have conversations with them.”
Clinton far outpaces Donald Trump in backing from millennials, who are more likely to be liberal. But one of the most striking statistics of this election remains her lackluster support from young people compared with Barack Obama, who made them a key part of the coalition that propelled him to victory twice.
Clinton led among millennials, by 51-31 percent with about 20 percent undecided, in one recent poll, according to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University.
By comparison, Obama was leading by 56-30 percent with 15 percent undecided at the same time in 2008, and by 55-36 percent with 9 percent undecided in 2012.
Barack Obama won 66 percent of young voters in 2008; 60 percent in 2012.
Will Hicks, 28, who is studying journalism at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, preferred Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders during the Democratic primary. But he decided to vote for Clinton in November after examining her record. His decision didn’t come because of her outreach to millennials, which he said he didn’t expect and hadn’t noticed. “I don’t really know what she could have done,” said Hicks, who will appear alongside other millennials in a new political reality TV show, “House Divided.”
Clinton has millennial support from young women, especially young black and Latina women, and older youth, ages 25-29, and is starting to gain the backing of the youngest men, who had been flocking to Trump. “She has a lot to do, but it’s not all lost,” CIRCLE Director Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg said.
But there are challenges in a 68-year-old trying to relate to voters five decades younger. Some younger voters are clearly dubious of the outreach, especially the late push. Clinton was mocked after her campaign asked millennials to describe their student loan debt using emojis on Twitter and when she made her own Snapchat video in Iowa.
“They feel like they’re only talked to when an election gets close and they are needed to win,” said Kawashima-Ginsberg.
Trump hasn’t tried to reach out to millennials. In general, his campaign does not have much infrastructure. His campaign did not return a request for comment.
But Matthew Oberly, a spokesman for the Young Republican National Federation, said Trump did appeal to millennials because of who he was and who he was not.
Trump’s background in entertainment makes him more likely to be well-known to younger people, who may have watched him on his reality TV show.
“He has really hit a note with millennials,” Oberly said. “We don’t appreciate that she’s a career politician. She’s failed me as a young American. I don’t think I am safer, not better off.”
I see the desperation. She expected that she was going to be far ahead of Donald Trump by this point.
Alex Chalgren, 18, of Irmo, S.C.
Clinton is doing much more than she did in her first presidential run to woo millennials, even more than Obama did, because of the many more social media tools now available.
In the last month, she unveiled nearly one event, policy or action a day designed to appeal to young voters and integrated each in every aspect of the campaign, from policy and organizing to paid media and communications.
She is targeting battleground states with large millennial populations – including Florida, North Carolina and Ohio – but also those states with smaller millennial populations, according to her aides.
Layla Zaidane, managing director for Generation Progress Action, a national organization that works with young people, said Clinton had been focused on issues that appealed to young people for years but that she was glad to see Clinton begin to talk about them more. “These are policies she had from the get-go,” she said. “She didn’t just come up with them at the last minute.”
Clinton has dispatched top surrogates – including Obama, first lady Michelle Obama, Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. – to talk to young voters. She invited former Vice President Al Gore to campaign with her in Florida on the key issue of climate change and organized sessions with musical performances by Nora Rothman and Dave Matthews. She re-engaged the nearly 300 campus groups involved in the primaries and deployed organizers to recruit hundreds of campus volunteers. She appeared in an interview opposite actress Lena Dunham, was interviewed by Humans of New York, penned a note on The Toast and launched a new podcast.
This summer, Clinton took part in a town hall in Los Angeles with nearly 100 creators from YouTube, Vine and others. On Tuesday, she participated in her first interview on Snapchat.
“I think she is doing a pretty good job of branching out to different age groups, especially the young ones,” said Jackie Regan, 20, a junior studying psychology at Wayne State University and an independent who initially supported Sanders. “Millennials are the generation that can really change this election’s outcome.”
Clinton received around 973,000 of the estimated 3.5 million votes cast by young people in the 27 Democratic primary contests this year, a per-state average of 28 percent, according to a study by CIRCLE, which studies youth voting trends. After the nomination contest ended, her aides met with younger voters who’d backed Sanders, hired former Sanders staffers and used Sanders voter files to recruit supporters.
In polls, especially in some battleground states, Clinton isn’t losing ground to Trump among young voters but to third-party candidates, including Libertarian Gary Johnson and Green Party’s Jill Stein. And it’s difficult to know whether they will eventually return to Clinton or Trump, stick with third-party candidates or even sit out the election.
“I don’t see evidence that she is losing” the millennial vote, said Martin Kifer, the director of the Survey Research Center at High Point University in North Carolina. “But it’s always tough to know what younger people will do because they have less of a track record.”