Democrats have long puzzled over Clinton’s inability to woo young adults. It happened in 2008, when Clinton lost the youth vote by a 25 point margin to Barack Obama, and it happened again in 2016, when Sanders beat Clinton by a 71-to-28 percent spread. Those aren’t just glancing blows, their crushing defeats among an incredibly important demographic.
Some pundits argue that her poor standing among Millennials is a result of attack ads. Others say that she’s bearing the brunt of an anti-establishment wave. Others worry she is a product of the status quo, not an agent of change. Others say she lacks a clear moral compass, operating instead like a political weathervane. Others say she represents old guard, “first wave” feminism espoused by middle-class white people, not the new “intersectional feminism” of the moment.
Are they all true? Are none of them true? Does it matter? The simple fact is that regardless of the reason why—perhaps its just a hunch that she’s phony—young voters have always supported the other option.
Clinton is at least aware of her weakness. Today Politico reports that she’s making some high profile hires aimed at helping her build a plan to win over Bernie Sanders young supporters:
The first high-profile Sanders staffer, specializing in college student outreach, decamped earlier this month from Burlington to Brooklyn, joining other battleground state aides who had worked for the Vermont senator and are now in Clinton’s camp. Advisers to both candidates say more Sanders staffers will be hired soon.
Meanwhile, Clinton’s allies in the environmental, labor and women’s health communities are tapping into the same data, digital and other messaging tactics that Sanders used to such great effect in galvanizing millions of millennial supporters.
And talks are ongoing between both campaigns about how to deploy Sanders later this summer and fall as a Clinton surrogate. The Clinton camp wants him to make his largest splash with the young cohort captivated by his Brooklyn-tinged talk of “revolution.”
Will having an “engagement strategy” help to break through with young adults?
On the one hand, it’s doubtful that she could do worse. Her hamfisted attempts at appearing “cool,” have thus far been huge flops. Like the time she used Snapchat to send a video the consisted of a still image of bottle of tea with a “More Like Chillary Clinton Amirite” koozie and an awkward cutover to Clinton saying, “I’ just chillin’…in Cedar Rapids.” Or the time she asked millennials to explain how their student loan debt made them feel in 3 emojis or less. Or the time Lena Dunham asked Clinton if she saw the video of Lenny Kravitz’s wardrobe malfunction when “his stuff, like, fell out of his pants,” and Clinton responded “Do you think I could get that . . . on YouTube? Yea, I’ll look for that.” Or the time she appeared on “Ellen” and awkwardly attempted to whip and nae nae.
But on the other hand, the desperate need to come up with a plan and make strategic hires is just another variation of the problem she has: She comes across as stage managed and inauthentic. Every tweet, every Facebook post, every speech, every interview, every attempt at appearing cool all feels as though it must be polled, focus grouped, strategized, and practiced a dozen times before Clinton actually does it.
That’s not the path to success with youth voters, especially if they already view you as lacking in principle and willing to go wherever the political winds blow. Moreover, it runs directly counter to Sanders’ strategy, which she is apparently trying to imitate. Sanders wasn’t cool, and he didn’t try to be. He was an angry old white dude with unruly hair and he didn’t run from that persona. I doubt he’d be caught dead trying the latest dance move on Ellen or doing a cameo on Broad City. Instead, he won over youth voters because he displayed a passion for boring issues. He didn’t try to make them interesting, or fit them into some larger pop culture narrative. He just treated young adults like, ya know, normal human beings.
That’s not something that requires a plan, or a surrogate, or new staff. It just requires authenticity, something that Clinton isn’t.