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Why Hillary Clinton Struggled to Get the Backing of Millennials

Before I begin this article, this is not to blame Hillary Clinton for the next 4 years of a Trump presidency; because she did not necessarily lose the election for the Democrats; after all she won the popular vote by the biggest margin in history.

This article is however directed towards the securing the future of the Democratic party by transforming millennials into life-long voters for the Democrats.

Democratic candidates have always been popular among the youth especially in the 2008 election with President Obama; but Clinton seemed to struggle with convincing young people to vote for her. Many on Clinton’s campaign tried to tackle her unpopularity with the youth, but were still stumped why so many young people, especially college students, were so unwilling to rally behind her despite Clinton’s move to adapt some of Bernie Sanders’ policies in her own platform. I hope that this article can shine some light and provide some answers to why millennials, even young women,  were so contested to campaign for Clinton.

I, like most millennials, voted for Sanders in the primaries; hell, I did more than vote, I helped co-found a national organization in support of Bernie Sanders. College Students for Bernie had over 260 chapters at its peak during the 2016 Democratic Primaries. But, what was it that made Sanders so much more popular among millennials than Clinton?

Political strategists in the media and in the Clinton campaign brushed the large-scale support of Sanders among college students as “entitled kids who wanted free education.” This painting of such a broad brush was the first mistake of the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Convention (DNC). In the eyes of millennials, two-party politics was seen as a failed system; and that the blind commitment to one party simply because one saw the other party as worse was an outlandish practice.  The DNC expected millennials to adapt their worldview to the platform of the party; while at the same time, millennials expected the DNC to adapt to theirs. The failure of the DNC to open up their platform to the voices of young voters is part of a larger problem within the Democratic party which is known as ‘elite liberalism.’  Instead of listening to the concerns and the problems of young people, Clinton and the DNC tried to tell young people what they thought were the adversities facing millennials. For Clinton, it was easier to scold young voters as “too idealistic and entitled” rather than to consider reshaping her platform.

Listening to college students is what Sanders did best; he didn’t tell young people that they were “too idealistic” because they believed that education was a right and not a commodity, or that healthcare should be guaranteed to all people; he not only truly believed what he was saying, but he was also willing to listen to people; as oppose to lecturing them on what they need.

Last year, I wrote an article criticizing Black Lives Matter activists for interrupting one of Sanders’ rally; and I will be the first to say that I was wrong in my criticism. After talking with Black Lives Matter activists, I truly understood why what they did was important. The most-valuable thing you can do when trying to be an ally to a marginalized community is to listen; and it was after listening that my whole opinion on the situation changed. When interrupted by Black Lives Matter protesters, Sanders stepped aside and let them have the microphone because he knew that he as a white man could not articulate the struggles of black youth. Clinton did not seem to grasp this idea; numerous times when she was confronted by BLM activists, she talked-over them acting as if she knew the issue better than the people experiencing it themselves; this is a form of ‘liberal elitism.’

The question still remains to why there wasn’t as momentum from millennials to back Clinton after Sanders dropped on and Clinton adapted his free education plan. The answer is tied into my first point; while Clinton strategists viewed millennials as entitled kids who wanted free college, they were unable to see the bigger picture. For millennials, it was not only important on what you support, but why you support a certain political position. Millennials are more driven by social-justice rather than what is seen as best for the capitalist economy. Clinton argued that tuition-free education would provide students a more sound financial situation and as a result they would be able to invest more into the economy; this may be true, but isn’t the reasoning that millennials were seeking out. Free education was an important issue to young voters because millennials viewed education as a human right rather than a commodity. Millennials could not advocate for adjusting our morals to fit our economic system; instead, it was more important that the economy adjust to our morals.

So my advice to the DNC is this; if you wish to convince young voters to stick with the party, you have to give them a voice in the party and be willing to adapt your platform to your voters rather than expecting your voters to adapt to your platform.

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Written by Alex Forgue

Profile photo of Alex Forgue

College Students majoring in Physics, political activist, and Editor and Founder of Merge Left.

Former organizer and Co-founder of College Students for Bernie.

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