Clinton campaign learning from Sanders to boost youth vote

Bernie Sanders, a 74-year-old senator from Vermont, was hugely popular among young voters compared to Hillary Clinton during the primaries. But now that she's the Democratic nominee for president, what does she need to do to win them over? Listen and learn, her campaign says.

Millennials flocked to 74-year-old senator but lost, and now the winner needs them

Ethan Jennings, 16 months old, grabs a cardboard cutout of the face of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton as his father, Florida delegate Bernard Jennings, holds him on Tuesday at the Democratic National Convention. Ethan is a bit young to vote this time around, but millennials will be a big voting bloc in November. (Associated Press)

A lot of unexpected and downright bizarre things have happened in the U.S. election campaign already, and the groundswell of support from America's youngest voters for a 74-year-old independent senator who decided to run for the Democratic nomination was among them.

Bernie Sanders dominated the youth vote in the primaries compared to Hillary Clinton, who on Tuesday was officially named the party's presidential nominee. In the end she won more delegates than he did, but it was Sanders to whom young voters flocked in huge numbers.

It was history repeating itself. In 2008 when Clinton ran for the Democratic nomination, young voters chose her opponent, Barack Obama, and by a wide margin.

This time around, many young voters, typically grouped together as 18 to 29, were inspired by Sanders and his call for a political revolution. They liked his ideas about free college and student debt relief and ending corporate influence over politics, as well as his backing of environmental policies, among other issues.

There is no doubt their support helped the Sanders campaign — viewed as a long shot when he launched it on Capitol Hill last year — achieve the success that it did.

But Clinton won the nomination, so now what?

Sanders engaged 'a generation'

Listen and learn, says Sarah Audelo, the millennial vote director for Hillary For America. After a meeting of the Democratic National Committee's Youth Council on Wednesday, Audelo said in an interview that Sanders did "an incredible job with engaging a generation."

"We are certainly working to learn from him," Audelo said. The campaign is reaching out to Sanders supporters and she's encouraging them to talk to her. She wants to hear their concerns and talk to them about how to move forward.

"We are fighting for their votes, we are not having any assumptions at all," said Audelo.

Michael Blake, a state representative in New York, spoke to the DNC's youth council on Wednesday in Philadelphia. He is confident millennial voters will help defeat Donald Trump in November. (Meagan Fitzpatrick/CBC)

Now that Clinton is the Democratic presidential nominee, efforts to boost the youth vote for her in November are ramping up. "We are hiring like crazy right now, we are putting it at 110 per cent to get this win in November," Audelo said.

A Clinton victory against Republican nominee Donald Trump could depend on getting out the youth vote, she said.

There are about 49 million eligible voters aged 18 to 29 this fall, according to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement. That's about 21 per cent of the total electorate.

Of those, more than 16 million will be new voters who have turned 18 since the last presidential election in 2012.
Millennials for Hillary buttons on display outside a meeting of the Democratic party's youth council at this week's convention in Philadelphia. (Meagan Fitzpatrick/CBC)

The Clinton campaign is trying to engage them online, through social media, but also face-to-face, said Audelo.

Robert Peters, 31, a convention delegate from Illinois, had some advice for Clinton.

"I think the most important thing is that Hillary needs to provide a vision for young people," he said.

Sanders clearly laid out his vision on issues like college debt and criminal justice reform, he said.

Not lazy and apathetic

The excitement and enthusiasm he generated around that vision proved that millennials are not lazy and apathetic, said Peters. He was a Sanders supporter but will vote for Clinton in November.

"We do care, we will work hard and we have a vision," he said.

Danielle Hagerty, another young voter, has always been a Clinton supporter. She suggested that to get more young people on board Clinton has to own up to her mistakes.

"I think she has to be honest with what she's done and stood for in the past," she said.

Michael Blake, 33, a state politician in New York, made an energetic speech that fired up the crowd at the youth council meeting. Afterward, he said in an interview that he's confident young Sanders supporters will get behind Clinton.
Graham Weinschenk, 17, will be of voting age by the November election and plans to cast his ballot for Hillary Clinton. (Meagan Fitzpatrick/CBC)

"Like any relationship, you just need a few days to heal," he said. "But I think everyone is seeing very clearly Donald Trump cannot be elected president. It just cannot happen."

Youth vote critical in November

Like Audelo, he said the youth vote will be "critical" to the election in November and that millennials must turn out in big numbers to ensure Trump doesn't win.

"This man is not qualified to be president and millennials are smart enough and engaged enough to realize that as well," said Blake. 

Graham Weinschenk, a 17-year-old from Virginia who was at the youth council meeting, said he's always been a Clinton supporter. He believes one of her challenges is effectively communicating her vision to young voters.

"I think Senator Sanders can help with that on the campaign trail," said Weinschenk. He looks forward to turning 18 on Sept.4 and casting his ballot for Clinton two months later.


Meagan Fitzpatrick is a multi-platform reporter with CBC in Toronto. She previously worked in CBC's Washington bureau and covered the 2016 election. Prior to heading south of the border Meagan worked in CBC's Parliament Hill bureau. She has also reported for CBC from Hong Kong. Follow her on Twitter @fitz_meagan