Beyond the Bubble

Missing from Democrats 2018 coalition: Millennials who hate Trump

Patrick McHugh, executive director of Priorities USA, records Beyond the Bubble podcast at McClatchy’s Washington bureau.
Patrick McHugh, executive director of Priorities USA, records Beyond the Bubble podcast at McClatchy’s Washington bureau. Fort Worth Star-Telegram

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WASHINGTON — Opposition to President Donald Trump is fueling Democratic enthusiasm nationwide — but the party is still struggling to convince some of the president’s biggest critics that voting for their candidates is worth their time.

Patrick McHugh, executive director for the Democratic super PAC Priorities USA, told Beyond the Bubble Tuesday that his group’s research shows Trump’s victory has motivated women and other parts of the base to become more politically active — while actually deterring some young people from believing doing so would make any difference.

“Our research has continually shown… that there is a large segment of voters, particularly millennial voters of color, who are not automatically motivated to turn out because of Donald Trump, and in many ways see the election of Donald Trump as another proof point on why voting doesn’t matter,” said McHugh.

“They certainly hate Donald Trump… they have highly unfavorable views of him,” added McHugh. “But they fundamentally think that participating in the system of voting, especially in a midterm election, will bring about no change to the system and, in fact, their voice doesn’t matter.”

McHugh’s group is among the largest spenders on Democratic candidates and causes this election cycle — with the goal of reaching young and minority voters whose help the party will need to retake the White House in 2020.

To do so, Priorities USA is taking the unusual step of investing all of its money into digital campaign ads and tools, instead of traditional TV and mail.

“A lot of the research we showed, and a lot of the ads that we’re currently running now as a result have shown, that there are several barriers that people say” keep them from “wanting to participate in the system,” said McHugh.

Among them: “They don’t believe that they know enough about the candidates on the ballot to go vote and make an informed decision so they just don’t do it,” he added. “This is particularly true among millennial voters, so that is another part of our challenge that we are addressing through a lot of our work towards these audiences that has just started in the last couple weeks.”

McHugh is veteran of multiple Senate campaigns, including former Sen. Kay Hagan, D-North Carolina. Pointing to close Senate races this fall in a number of states Trump won, McHugh said the Senate’s contentious Supreme Court hearings over Brett Kavanaugh have been a net positive for his party’s Senate candidates, even those seeking reelection in Republican territory.

“There have been a number of Republican operatives who have claimed that they have seen an uptick in Republican enthusiasm (from the Kavanaugh hearings)… which I have not seen evidence of in our private polling,” said McHugh.

“Even in states that should be tough for us, we have enthusiasm on our side, and I think that’s one of the things that’s keeping us in the game in these red states, is that our base is very energized,” he added. “Our challenge of course, is to keep a certain segment of Trump voters…supporting our Democratic candidates.”

McClatchy’s Beyond the Bubble show is produced by Jordan-Marie Smith and Davin Coburn. Alex Roarty, a national political correspondent for McClatchy, and Andrea Drusch, Washington correspondent for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, recorded this episode at McClatchy’s Washington Bureau, October 2, 2018.