Clinton May Be Just ‘Likable Enough’ for Millennials

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Millennial voters seem to be drifting languidly toward a vote for the Democratic candidate.Photo: Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg via Getty Images

According to the political cognoscenti, Hillary Clinton’s biggest risk of defeat comes from millennials who hate Donald Trump but hold Clinton in minimum high regard, and who are exhibiting relatively high levels of support for minor-party candidates Gary Johnson and Jill Stein.

Now comes Harold Meyerson with some new data suggesting the level of millennial defections from the Donkey Party may be exaggerated a bit:

A late-September survey of more than 1,750 millennials, conducted by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs and Research for the Black Youth Project at the University of Chicago, found that most national polls overstate young people’s support for Johnson and Stein because they under-sampled black, Latino, and Asian American millennials. The AP-NORC poll found just 11 percent of millennials backed Johnson, and just 4 percent Stein. Johnson had the backing of 15 percent of whites aged 18 to 30—but just 8 percent of Latinos, 6 percent of Asian Americans, and 4 percent of African Americans. Stein was getting 4 percent of white millennials, but just 2 percent of their black counterparts. Similarly, a second late-September survey by Latino Decisions found that 77 percent of Latino millennials were backing Clinton—exceeding by a full 10 points the 67 percent of older Latinos who said they’d vote for her.

Meyerson goes on to suggest that white millennials are enjoying a kind of “white-skin privilege,” in that they are less exposed to the kind of bad vibes, bad policies, and bad conditions of life that would accompany a Trump administration. He also acknowledges that this hard core of white millennial resistance to voting for Clinton began in the Bernie-or-Bust ranks at the Democratic convention.

You have to appreciate that Harold Meyerson is not some conventional Beltway Democrat. He’s a lifelong self-identified democratic socialist and was himself a staunch Sanders supporter during the primaries. So he’s naturally frustrated with former allies who are not making common cause with other progressives.

But perhaps the millennial holdouts are a softer target for Clinton than is commonly imagined. The Atlantic’s Molly Ball spent some time with a focus group of undecided millennial voters and came away with the impression they may find Hillary Clinton just “likable enough,” to use Barack Obama’s backhanded compliment from 2008.

Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson, who has made inroads with Millennial voters but seen his overall vote share decline in recent polling, had no supporters in this group. Virtually all the participants were aware of Johnson’s recent gaffes and said they viewed him as unqualified.

The prevailing sentiment was one of grudging capitulation to a Clinton vote. “Clinton by default,” said Alex, a 26-year-old Asian-American paralegal, looking pained. “That’s the only choice I have.”

It’s a far cry from the thrill many young people felt casting votes for Obama or Sanders. But a vote is a vote, and Clinton will surely take it.

That is exactly right. Enthusiasm for a candidate is nice, but once you get beyond the threshold of motivation necessary to decide to vote, it’s not terribly essential except insofar as it is communicable to others. Unless the major-candidate contest is crazy close, the gap between an enthused and unenthused millennial turnout for Clinton will mostly matter to political scientists and those planning future campaigns.