The Atlantic recently published a story about Hillary Clinton and Millennials that essentially blames an entire generation for potentially sinking her chances in the 2016 presidential election.
Millennial Voters May Cost Hillary Clinton the Election is a well-written piece from Ronald Brownstein, amply supported with data from recent polls. It’s a tough article to read if you support Hillary Clinton. It’s not that there are any surprises, it’s just painful to realize how much of Hillary’s non-engagement with Millennials is her own fault.
Big majorities of Millennials, the polls show, view her as untrustworthy, calculating, and unprincipled. Which is another way of saying they have accepted the portrait that Bernie Sanders painted of her during their long primary struggle. In the GWU Battleground Poll, 66 percent of Millennials said she says what is politically convenient, while only 22 percent said she says what she believes.
Amazing: only 22 percent believe she says what she believes. I’ve been following Hillary’s public life for almost 25 years now and I can’t think of anyone who is more consistent — and more consistently vocal — about her beliefs. And as Brownstein points out, in terms of issues Hillary and Millennials are on the same page about 90% of the time. So what’s going wrong?
Earlier today I watched a webinar put on by the Ad Council and a consulting group called Crowdtap that focused on Millennials and how brands build engagement with this audience using social activism and social media. The two main motivating factors for involvement from this group are a “sense of personal duty” and a “sense of community.” That’s the “what.” The “how” is equally important. Brands that successfully market to Millennials connect in way that is “authentic,” “emotional,” and “transparent.”
Like many marketers who find out that the dogs don’t like the dog food you’re selling, my first inclination is to blame the Millennials. How can this group be so stupid! Do they really want to live in a Trump World of race riots in our cities? Wars wherever Donald feels insulted? Seeing Muslim friends deported just for being Muslim? A growing student loan debt? More taxes for us and less for the wealthy?
The truth is, it’s not their fault. In Bernie Sanders they found a candidate who was authentic, emotional, and transparent. Yeah, I thought he was hogwash, but then again I supported George McGovern when I was just out of college, so I understand the dynamics at work. Once Millennials (most, not all) made the emotional connection with Sanders, that’s not something they can easily throw away. He was able to engage with them because that is really who he is and that is how they process politics. It’s now part of their political souls, and we need to respect that.
If I blame anyone, I blame Hillary and her hotshot campaign staff that continue to showcase her as inauthentic, unemotional, and cloaked in secrecy. No wonder Millennials don’t believe her. Didn’t she start campaigning almost two years ago? She and her staff didn’t anticipate this problem?
Some years ago I decided that if a candidate can’t win the presidency, he/she doesn’t deserve to be president. Their first job is to get the job. Whether or not they get there is really their first test. If that can’t pass it, then they should get out of the game and go write books. How they run their campaign reveals a great deal about their skills as a leader, organizer, motivator. So far, Hillary has been disappointingly unimpressive.
She has several options now:
- She can reverse the negative association she has in the minds of enough Millennials to beat Trump. Even if she can reduce the number of anti-Hillary Millennials from 65% to 60%, that could be enough to win in November.
- She can mitigate the effects of the Millennial gap by growing the number of Hillary voters in other demographic groups. Where are her strengths demographically? Can she grow there? Are there groups she has essentially ignored so far?
- She can lose fewer of her current supporters who might grow frustrated or become dissatisfied with her campaign.
- She can play the usual campaign gambit of overwhelming Tump with numbers — outspend him significantly on advertising and other paid media, put more troops on the ground, do a better job of getting out the vote on election day.
Personally, I would suggest doing all those things, if only to see which ones might provide the best ROI. If the election stays as tight as some people say it is, she can’t take any options off the table. This is marketing warfare at the highest level and with the greatest consequences for all of us. She can’t afford to lose.