Why is Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton underperforming among young voters?
Since several polls released over the past ten days indicated that the inclusion of third party candidates revealed a precipitous decline in Millennial support for the Democratic nominee, we have gotten no shortage of theories from the punditry purporting to answer this question. Mother Jones’s Kevin Drum blames Bernie Sanders. New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait agrees. The Daily Beast’s James Kirchick says “cynicism” and an inexplicable aversion to permanent imperial war are the problem. New Republic’s Brian Beutler, contra Kirchick, offers a take so hot that it has single-handedly revised global climate change projections: Young voters are insufficiently familiar with the horrors of the Bush administration. The given causes vary but the consensus is clear: Young voters are pathological and the cure is to disabuse them of their ignorance.
Here is my own wild take on why millennials don’t support Clinton “enough”: Many younger American voters, perhaps a sufficient number of them to seriously imperil Clinton’s chances, have significant ideological differences with the candidate. That’s my theory. Many liberal pundits seem unimpressed by this idea perhaps because it suggests that votes must be earned in a democracy, but it does have the benefit of the evidence.
Hillary Clinton does not support single-payer health care; Young voters do. Hillary Clinton is among the more hawkish members of the Democratic Party; Young voters are not. Hillary Clinton is a capitalist, and even within a capitalist party, she is in both perception and in practice unusually comfortable with capitalism’s worst practices. Millennials, by contrast, reject the entire economic system by a bare majority. They are no great fans of financial institutions or free trade. This should not be surprising in a year when very few voters of any age group are particularly enthusiastic about their prospects.
The liberal punditry might be forgiven for underestimating the depth and seriousness of these differences had these young people not voted overwhelmingly and across all other demographic lines for a different candidate. The Clinton campaign might be forgiven for imagining these voters would “come home” had it not spent the weeks since the Democratic Convention fundraising and playing Bush administration endorsement bingo. The trouble is not that young people are insufficiently familiar with the neoconservative horror show of their own childhoods. The trouble is that the candidate they are meant to support does not appear to find that show particularly horrifying.
Indeed it is difficult not to imagine that the punditry has refused to endorse the maddeningly simple conclusion that young voters are reluctant to support a candidate who does not represent their policy preferences because such a conclusion might undermine the need for so much well-compensated armchair psychology on their part.
All of this consternation is made stranger still by the fact that despite all of this, millennials remain Clinton’s strongest age group in the election. Kevin Drum insists that this is not the point (rather, he argues, “The issue is relative support compared to previous years… [that] millennial voters prefer Hillary Clinton at far lower levels than they preferred Barack Obama four years ago,” which is to say that a different group of millennials preferred a different Democratic candidate against a different set of opponents in a different election), but surely if we are going to begin assigning blame for a theoretical Trump Presidency we ought to assign it to the generations actually breaking for Donald Trump.…
I would like to suggest that the threat these young voters pose to technocratic liberalism is not the possibility of electing Donald Trump. Despite Clinton’s flagging numbers, her chances of success remain high. Rather, the fear is that if younger voters really are committed to a host of ideological positions at odds with the mainstream of the Democratic Party, then that Party, without a Trump-sized cudgel, is doomed.…