A new generation of American voters has few if any profound political memories of any president other than Barack Obama, and that appears to be having an effect on how they perceive their choices for his successor.
A new GenForward survey suggests millennials as a whole disapprove overwhelmingly of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, and interviews with college students in the battleground state of North Carolina found many first-time voters see the 70-year-old real estate mogul as offensive, unprepared and even racist.
About 60 percent of those voters age 18 to 30, meanwhile, approve of the job Obama is doing.
Yet those sentiments don’t necessarily benefit Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, 68, raising questions about whether the former secretary of state can generate the same level of support among an age bracket that helped Obama win two terms.
Here’s what some millennial voters have to say about Clinton, Trump, Obama and the state of the nation.
Duke University graduate student Jennifer Lenart, 23, is considering third-party choices, arguing that another Clinton administration would be dominated, fairly or not, by controversy and gridlock:
“I do like her, but because of what I keep hearing, it’s too much, too overwhelming. I’d rather start from a clean slate so we don’t have to deal with this anymore.”
Joey Abbate, a 21-year-old varsity wrestler at Duke, describes himself as a Republican unhappy with the state of the nation. The California native will vote for Trump, but says he isn’t confident in his choice:
“There needs to be some change, and I don’t really see that coming with Clinton. … I know there would be some change with Trump. I just don’t know whether it would be good or bad. It’s tough to know because he doesn’t have any political background. I feel like with Trump you’re almost in the dark, you know. … With Clinton you kind of know what you’re getting.”
Thayer Atkins, a 20-year-old Duke student and varsity wrestler from Texas, says he’s a Republican who opposed Obama’s re-election and will vote for Trump, but he doesn’t “fear” another Democratic administration:
“While some things have happened I don’t agree with, I don’t really think that’s the case that we’re going down the tubes. … I’m not sitting here saying, ‘If Hillary gets elected, that’s the nail in the coffin. We’re done.’ I just think she gets us farther away from where I think we need to be.”
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Micah English, a 21-year-old Duke student from Maryland who supports Clinton, says she tries to dissuade her fellow millennials from voting for a third-party candidate.
“If you want to advance a cause against the two (major) parties, it is not done by voting for president. Do that at the local and state level. Build the legitimacy of the party. Get more people on your side. Make the ideas more mainstream. That’s not how I think American democracy would be, but that is the system we have. It would be great if Gary Johnson or Jill Stein could win a national election, but they can’t.”
Vikram Seethpalli, a 19-year-old Duke student, backed Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary, but says Clinton is clearly preferable to Trump:
“One of the main things I hear (from fellow millennials) is just wanting a change in Washington, no matter what it is. The other is people thinking she’s completely untrustworthy. One of the reasons I initially wasn’t going to vote for her was the money aspect — the campaign finance. But I put it in the simplest terms. If Trump is elected and you voted for Gary Johnson, will you regret your decision if thousands of people are being deported and you didn’t vote for the only other viable candidate?”
Ben Ezroni, 19, of New York describes himself as a reluctant Trump supporter: “I’m tired of the GOP and the same old politicians. But I feel like Hillary brings that same image as well. When I think of Hillary, I think of special interest groups, I think about the Clinton Foundation, all that stuff. I’m just looking for something different. I feel like that’s what Obama brought.”
Paulos Muruts, a 19-year-old Duke student from North Carolina, finds Trump “racist,” but says he might have to be convinced actually to vote for Clinton.
“Hillary has the experience. I would trust her more in the boardroom with other leaders. She was top lawyer, served as secretary of state. I just don’t think Trump has the personality for the job. He’s too reactive. You just have to have the right temperament. … (But) she doesn’t inspire excitement.” But on Obama: “Love President Obama. He’s got a swagger. He plays basketball. The things he does in public. He’s tight with all these athletes. … He’s actually accomplished a lot, and with all the criticism and opposition he faces, he just takes it. He’s cool.”
Arielle Kahn, a 21-year-old Duke University senior from New York, says much of Clinton’s struggle to connect with voters stems from unconscious sexism:
“It’s’ so ingrained in our society how women are treated. People say, ‘Oh, she’s not the best politician,’ because she’s not perfect. … In comparison to Trump? He’s the worst politician, and the mere fact that she has to be the model of perfection to even be considered on the same playing field? That’s just wrong.”