ATLANTA, Georgia: The presidential candidates have been unable to attract a groundswell from 18- to 29-year-old voters like the one that helped push President Barack Obama to wins in two elections.
That voting bloc could provide critical mass for a win, particularly since they and the previous generation, the Generation Xers, now outnumber baby boomers and their parents, who have dominated the economy and elections for decades.
Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton need to reach younger voters, said Audrey Haynes, a political science professor at the University of Georgia, but so far they are failing.
“This is going to be a mobilization election. Will Clinton be able to get those Bernie [Sanders] supporters to really show up and vote? Will those young people at Trump rallies really vote for him?” said Haynes. “It’s a big question mark.”
As of July, about 126 million Millennial and Gen X adults were eligible to vote, compared to 98 million boomers and those who are older, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of census data.
In the run-up to the primary election, Sanders’ liberal platform, including free college and social justice, appealed to young voters; as did Republican candidate Marco Rubio’s youthfulness and similar circumstances. Like many of them, he struggled to pay off student loans.
Clinton does hold a lead among younger voters, about 41 percent versus 20 percent for Trump in national polls. But that’s far from the backing Obama had from that age group when he won at least 60 percent of the under-30 vote in both the 2008 and 2012 elections, according to American National Election Studies.
Clinton and Trump, 68 and 70 years old, “are senior citizens,” said Marilyn Davis, a political science professor at Spelman College. Younger voters felt Sanders was “fresh, and was a candidate who was about issues they cared about,” Davis said. But with the two current candidates, “There is no issue agenda, there is pretty much attack and counterattack and suspicion,” Davis said. “That’s not going to work anymore.”
In an August AJC poll, among Georgia voters age 18-39, Clinton led Trump 44 percent to 29 percent. Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson polled at 21 percent — very high compared to the number of votes third-party candidates typically get in the election. Jill Stein, Green Party candidate, got 4 percent.
But despite Clinton’s lead over Trump, 61 percent of those voters had an unfavorable view of her. Trump’s unfavorable rating was even worse, 70 percent.
Talk to young voters — including those who typically lean Democratic — and questions emerge about Clinton’s ethics.
Samantha Ramirez, 26, knows she will vote in November, but doesn’t yet know for whom. Both major-party candidates have more cons than pros, said the former Sanders supporter. When Sanders was eliminated, Ramirez was hesitant to support Clinton.
“I’m concerned about her trustworthiness,” she said. “Those emails [official communications housed on Clinton’s private server when she was Secretary of State]were red flags and made me wonder, am I dealing with a liar?”
Members of Georgia State University’s Panthers for Bernie Sanders couldn’t come to a consensus on whether to support Clinton, and decided not to officially support any presidential candidate.
“When Bernie Sanders said something you knew you could believe it, but with Hillary Clinton you feel like she says one thing to coal miners in West Virginia and something else to another group in another place,” said Nick Langley, 28, a Georgia State University graduate student and leader of the group.