The Corner

Politics & Policy

Overthinking Why Young Voters Don’t Love Hillary

In response to Escape!

One of the few silver linings, if Donald Trump were actually to win the election, would be watching liberal pundits who have marinated in smug since he emerged as a threat to win the nomination suddenly dissolve in abject panic. The excuse-making has already begun: blame the media for not giving Hillary the kind of full-court defense Barack Obama got! (Harvard professor Thomas Patterson):

While Trump declared open warfare on the mainstream media — and of late they have cautiously responded in kind — it has been Clinton who has suffered substantially more negative news coverage throughout nearly the whole campaign.

Blame liberals’ failure to hate George W. Bush sincerely enough! (Brian Beutler):

If 18-to 29-year-olds vote for third-party candidates in sufficient numbers to tip the election to Trump, it will be the consequence of a liberal failure to build an oral tradition around the Bush administration…

Blame Millennials who haven’t read Gary Johnson’s platform! (Paul Krugman);

It’s really hard to believe that young voters who supported Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary think any of this is a good idea. But Mr. Johnson and Ms. Stein have received essentially no media scrutiny, so that voters have no idea what they stand for.

Blame Bernie Sanders (Jonathan Chait):

Voters too young to remember the first Clinton presidency have come away with a very different impression. Many of them received their introduction to Hillary Clinton through Bernie Sanders, who presented his opponent as the “bought and paid for” representative of a “rigged” system. Sanders has always used hyperbolic terms like this in expressing his left-wing indictment of the power of entrenched wealth, but the metaphor may have been lost on young voters who came away regarding the Democratic nominee as literally a criminal. Polls show that voters under 30 loathe Trump but have not given Clinton anything close to the margins enjoyed by Barack Obama in either of his two elections.

Kevin Drum blames Bernie as well:

I reserve most of my frustration for Bernie Sanders. He’s the one who convinced these folks that Clinton was in the pocket of Wall Street. She gave a speech to Goldman Sachs! He’s the one who convinced them she was a tool of wealthy elites. She’s raising money from rich people! He’s the one who convinced them she was a corporate shill. She supported the TPP! He’s the one who, when he finally endorsed her, did it so grudgingly that he sounded like a guy being held hostage. He’s the one who did next to nothing to get his supporters to stop booing her from the convention floor. He’s the one who promised he’d campaign his heart out to defeat Donald Trump, but has done hardly anything since—despite finding plenty of time to campaign against Debbie Wasserman Schultz and set up an anti-TPP movement.

Even here at NRO, Veronique de Rugy suggests some rational policy reasons why Millennials may be unwilling to support Hillary Clinton, like her hawkishness, cronyism and pro-War on Drugs record. Ronald Brownstein argues that the poll data shows it’s more personal, albeit with those personal assessments drawn from to her political record:

But the message from all of these polls is that Clinton’s problems with younger voters are rooted not in policy but in personal assessments. Big majorities of Millennials, the polls show, view her as untrustworthy, calculating, and unprincipled. Which is another way of saying they have accepted the portrait that Bernie Sanders painted of her during their long primary struggle. In the GWU Battleground Poll, 66 percent of Millennials said she says what is politically convenient, while only 22 percent said she says what she believes. In the Quinnipiac survey, 77 percent said she was not honest and trustworthy. “It’s hard for them after hearing that for a year [from Sanders] to just turn on a dime,” Baumann says.

But I wonder if maybe we’re all just overthinking this, and overanalyzing and overestimating general election voters the same way so many of us all did during the primaries. Maybe Donald Trump won the primaries in good part simply because he seemed – especially to older, less-educated voters – like an Alpha Dog. Trump is tall, taller than his opponents other than the slump-shouldered Jeb and Pataki (Jeb’s default posture is the Exasperated Sitcom Dad Shrug), and there’s a long tradition of taller candidates winning presidential contests. He’s broad, physically and in his gestures. He’s loud. He’s rich. He’s famous. He marries models. People who want a take-charge strongman look for indicators like that and don’t pay much attention to the details. Reagan & George W were both Alpha Dog types, especially Reagan. They had swagger. Reagan was tall and broad-shouldered and looked like a guy Hollywood would cast as a cowboy or a football star because, well, he actually was a guy Hollywood cast in those roles. Neither of them won entirely for those reasons, but it helped.

People like Chait and Beutler, secure in their high opinion of the wisdom and erudition of every Democratic voter, assume that the only possible reason why younger Democrats could reject Hillary after favoring Obama is that nobody has told them the truth yet about the issue stakes or the nature of the candidates. But I wonder if the answer is simpler: Barack Obama was young (by politician standards), and tall, and cool, and cocky, and trash-talking, and black, and Hillary is none of those things. She doesn’t have a commanding physical presence, and didn’t even when she was younger, even by the standards of female politicians. Her laugh is grating, her sense of humor (when it appears) is painfully corny. She’s old and compromised in the ways adults often are. She seems like somebody’s grandmother, because she actually is a grandmother. She seems like a corporate lawyer who would sit on a Board of Directors, because she actually is a corporate lawyer who sat on a Board of Directors. She seems like she thinks she should be cooler than she is, because 25 years ago everybody thought her husband was cool, and the cool rock stars of the day wanted to hang with the Clintons – but to a 22 year old, Fleetwood Mac is Dad rock.” Maybe there isn’t much more than that, for a lot of young, liberal-leaning voters who don’t follow the news very carefully.

The great false conceit of liberal punditry is not that a share of Right-leaning voters are dumb or bigoted or tribalist or that Republicans sometimes pander to those base instincts. The great false conceit of liberal punditry is that these things are not also true of Left-leaning voters and their party, when all of American history cries out with counterexamples.

Liberals dined out for eight years on being the cool kids. Then they nominated an uncool candidate, and wonder why the cool kids don’t think she’s the same thing.


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