Hillary Clinton Struggles to Energize Young Voters

Hillary Clinton
Hillary Clinton / AP

Hillary Clinton is increasingly struggling to appeal to and garner support from young voters across the country, especially in the battleground state of Pennsylvania.

Clinton’s polls numbers among younger voters are "sagging" while her lead over Donald Trump with this demographic is plunging, McClatchy DC reported Thursday.

A Quinnipiac University poll this month found that in a four-way race, Clinton is up 5 points nationally with 18- to 34-year-old voters, down from a 24-point lead just a month before.

Just days ahead of the first debate Monday and less than two months before voting ends, interviews with more than 30 young voters in the battleground state of Pennsylvania underscore her two challenges: Many young voters are taking serious looks at Donald Trump as well as Libertarian Gary Johnson and the Green Party’s Jill Stein. And many are debating whether they even want to vote this year.

In the 27 Democratic primaries earlier this year, Clinton won an average of 28 percent of the 17- to 29-year old vote. Clinton’s former opponent, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.), received an overwhelming majority of support among young voters during their primary race.

Penn State University and Central Pennsylvania Institute of Science and Technology are two higher education institutions in the swing state of Pennsylvania that will be a challenge for Clinton. McClatchty spoke with 30 young Pennsylvania voters at these institutions and found they are not enthusiastic about Clinton–even if they support her candidacy.

These are voters whose political awareness began in the mid-2000s. They have little regard–or use for–government and politics. They’ve seen the United States embroiled in two wars, a brutal recession that affected their parents, and a Washington that seems endlessly mired in gridlock.

They do know Trump, the host of "The Apprentice" and "Celebrity Apprentice," and his blunt talk has some appeal.

Elliot Jersild, 22,  for example, is a junior statistics major who was not going to participate in the election, but then he was attracted to Trump’s candor.

"He’s the only reason I’m voting now," Jersild told McClatchy. "He’s not politically correct, and that means we can have an honest discussion about policy without being called racist or sexist."

Another student, Kristen Probst, 26, who studies nursing at Central Pennsylvania Institute, is a registered Democrat, but says she will vote for Trump because "Trump is no fake."

Despite many of the students disliking Clinton, Trump is also unfavorable among many young voters in Pennsylvania, including the College Republicans president at Penn State.

"I despise him with all my heart," said Michael Straw, the head of Penn State’s GOP.

Straw does not agree with Clinton either because her plan to boost the economy involves government interference. Instead, Straw appreciates the Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson’s free market ideas.

Students are intrigued by Johnson, and polls show him gaining support. But Quinnipiac also found that 44 percent hadn’t heard enough about him, and the young voters are reluctant to eagerly embrace him at this point.

Johnson at least has fresh ideas, said Matthew Pendleton, 21, a senior economic major. Exactly, said Daniel Donaher, 20, a junior electrical engineering major. He’s less likely to involve the U.S. in war, Donaher said, whereas Clinton is "hawkish."

While there are many students not enthusiastic about Clinton, Penn State’s Students for Hillary group downplayed the unpopularity of Clinton’s candidacy. The group's leader, Johnna Purcell, 20, called the reports of Clinton’s diminishing support a "myth."

"They distrust the system, and they don’t want to work within the system," she said. "We’re showing people the only way to change it is to work within it."

Clinton is currently polling among young voters at about half of what President Obama received in the 2012 election and even less than that compared to his 2008 numbers, according to McClatchy. Obama received 66 percent support in 2008 and 60 percent support in 2012, compared to Clinton currently polling at 31 percent  in a four-way race.

Despite Clinton having support from Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) on the campaign trail, many young voters do not trust the Democratic nominee.

To many, it all looked like vintage Clinton, shaping her message to get what she wants.

"I just don’t feel I can trust her," said Jesse Weber, 21, a senior immunology major who’s undecided. He’s no fan of Trump, finding the Republican "makes people feel uncomfortable," a deadly trait for a president. He’s thinking of not voting.

Many young voters said they will support Clinton grudgingly, but that they are not enthusiastic about voting for her after spending months criticizing her when they were supporting Sanders. Their support is more anti-Trump than it is pro-Clinton.

"Trump doesn’t have a very solid or logical train of thought," said Marvin Barnhill, 18, a sophomore labor and employment relations major. A registered Democrat, he said he "distrusts" Clinton but that at least she’s better than Trump.

"I’m not passionate about Hillary Clinton," added Larissa Gil, 20, a senior philosophy and German major. "She doesn’t have the integrity Bernie does, but she will do a 100 percent better job than Trump."