This could be key in the GOP taking back the White House in 2016.
If Millennials turn out to vote in 2016, they could be the nation’s largest voting bloc and a force to be reckoned with. The keyword there, however, is “if.”
In 2008 Barack Obama got Millennials excited about voting. More young people made their way to the polls in 2008 than in any other election year since 1972, choosing Obama over John McCain by a greater than 2:1 margin.
Past behavior is often a reliable predictor of future performance, but this election will be different. Only 26 percent of Millennial Democrats currently support Hillary, who is struggling to fill college-based venues during campaign stops. She’s no Obama.
Here are three things Obama had going for him when it came to enticing Millennials to the polls in 2008:
Obama was a fresh face. In ’08, the bright-eyed senator from Illinois was able to convince voters that he was the consummate, yet real-deal politician—that he was different from the political class as we knew it. As a first-term senator, Obama didn’t have a political track record to scrutinize. During August of that year, he said during a speech at the Democratic National Convention, “Change doesn’t come from Washington. It comes to Washington.” The smooth-talking senator serenaded voters with beautiful speeches about what could be, and young people (i.e. fledgling voters) didn’t have any reason not to believe him.
If Obama was a clean slate, Hillary is the chalkboard that always looks chalky. When Bill Clinton took office in 1993 he brought Hillary with him, and she has been part of the conversation ever since. Even the name Clinton reeks of entrenchment. A career politician, the former secretary of state has already been connected to multiple high-level scandals. From her latest email breach to her shared Whitewater scandal with Bill, Hillary has managed to keep it unsavory. It would be difficult finding an American who doesn’t already have strong opinions about her.
Obama was cool. Creating a fresh brand is important when appealing to Millennials. (Ask Bill—he nailed this.) In 2008 college students proudly slapped “Hope” stickers on their MacBooks and wore Obama t-shirts on college campuses across the nation. Supporting Obama sent a social signal to fellow Millennials: You were a hip member of the “in” crowd. The candidate seemed like the kind of guy any college kid would want to get a beer (or smoke a joint) with. The guy had style and flair.
But Hillary? She’s a pantsuit-wearing grandmother with the personality of a brick wall. You don’t need the concept of the multiverse to picture a hip-at-all-costs version of Hillary showing up and saying, “Hey dudes, doing anything rad, like voting?” She is known for her coldness and being highly unapproachable. Earlier this year, Clinton rudely dismissed an eager supporter, telling the woman to “get in the back of the line.” Clinton’s own Secret Service allegethat she is rude and nasty towards those who work for her. One agent claims she threw a book at the back of his head when she thought he was eavesdropping—not exactly the “let’s grab a beer, buddy” aura that Obama emanates.
Obama was the right candidate at the right time. During Obama’s first presidential campaign, young Americans were hostile towards President George W. Bush. At that time, only 22 percent of Millennials supported the Iraq war, and just 70 percent of them had jobs due to a sluggish economy. Obama ran at the perfect time, offering what appeared to be a stark contrast from Bush.
On the other hand, Hillary couldn’t be running during worse time. Millennials, have become sick of the political class and trust in the federal government is at an all-time low. So it’s no surprise that this election cycle favors D.C. outsiders like Donald Trump and Hillary’s Democratic rival, self-proclaimed socialist Bernie Sanders.
To paraphrase Victor Hugo, who said there is no stopping an idea whose time has come, Obama, whatever he is and has been, was an idea during that election cycle. Perhaps never before have voters had so many chances to ask, “What if?”
What if we had a cool President?
What if our President was unflappable and could give a hell of a speech?
What if our President was charismatic?
Can Hillary be reduced to an idea? If so, what is it? What is the “What if?” There’s not much there.
What if we had a female president?
What if we had another Clinton?
What if we had a president with a scandalous background?
To be clear, Hillary’s Millennial problem isn’t about policy. Most young voters identify as liberal, and after Sanders drops out of the race, will inevitably prefer Hillary over any GOP candidate. What she has failed to do, though, is get young people excited about her. If she doesn’t ignite passion among young voters the way Obama did, many will shrug their shoulders on election morning, say, “Meh,” and opt instead for a few extra hours of sleep.
So unless Hillary turns things around, and fast, the GOP can play the presidential election like a midterm. Lower turnout from unenthused young people could leave the fate of the election to Baby Boomer independent voters.
She looks so life-like. But a politician who is not passionate will not inspire passion among voters. Perhaps her programmer forgot to install her Fervor and Warmth modules.
Kristin Tate is a columnist living in Houston, Texas. Follow her on Twitter @KristinBTate