FAIRFAX, VA — When the dust had settled on Super Tuesday, Hillary Clinton had won decisively in seven states, buoyed by a wave of support from female voters, voters over 45, and voters of color.
Yet Clinton lost the youth vote to rival Bernie Sanders in every single state that held a caucus or primary this week.
After also losing the millennial vote by wide margins in Iowa and New Hampshire, the results reveal a persistent weakness for Clinton. In 2012, young Americans cast the deciding votes to sweep Barack Obama to victory over Mitt Romney, even though only half of eligible voters under 29 actually turned out to vote.
Millennials could have an even bigger impact this fall, when they will make up, for the first time, as big a percentage of the electorate as baby boomers.
Though Clinton won Virginia, where she held last-minute get-out-the-vote rallies on Monday, she lost voters ages 18-29-years-old by 39 points, and lost first-time voters by 8 points.
At Clinton’s rally at George Mason University on Monday, a few hundred students and community members packed into a room in George Mason’s student “hub” to hear Clinton’s pitch. The event drew a much smaller crowd than Sanders’ appearance at the school back in October, and many of the students at Clinton’s rally told ThinkProgress they are either undecided or supporters of Bernie Sanders.
Some students, including George Mason University senior Maaz Ahmad, even said they may refuse to vote for Clinton if she wins the Democratic primary. “I wouldn’t mind going third party,” he said. “I just cant really get with her. Pretty much, out of everyone, there’s only one that I have a positive outlook on, and that’s Bernie.”
A growing online movement called “Bernie or Bust” has been urging Sanders supporters to write in his name or vote for the Green Party if Clinton advances to this fall’s general election. The threat of a splintered Democratic Party scares young voters like sophomore Criminology major William Johnson, who told ThinkProgress the Left needs to “coalesce and not fracture, no matter who wins.”
But much of the onus for unifying young progressives, he emphasized, is on Clinton.
“I think it’s important for her to pick someone as a running mate who is energizing for the youth vote, and figure out what way she can incorporate Bernie Sanders into her campaign,” he said. “There’s a lot of energy there and we don’t want to see it dissipate. [Clinton] also needs to make sure to not write off universities, or assume we’re all going to be supporting Bernie Sanders. She needs to stay engaged with our age group.”
In her speech to the students, Clinton hammered themes Sanders has championed, from making education affordable to raising the minimum wage. She also took a page from Sanders’ playbook by asking the crowd to raise their hand if they currently had student debt, and call out the interest rates they have to pay on that debt. Some shouted that they were paying higher than 10 percent, causing Clinton to promise to push for a bill to allow them to refinance at a lower rate.
“And if you do public service, we will cut it, discount it and even forgive it,” she said. “After 20 years, it doesn’t matter how much is left, you’re done.”
The crowd cheered this promise, but students told ThinkProgress it didn’t go far enough.
“I think that people are really just looking for a revolution at this point, and she is coming off as too establishment and too mainstream for a lot of people,” said 38-year-old Synaca Norman, who went back to school later in life and will graduate from GMU in May.
But like young voters in other states, most Virginia students emphasized that they are choosing sides based more on policy than personality. Clinton supporters repeatedly told ThinkProgress they found her policy stances more “realistic,” while Sanders supporters said they were won over by his promises to decriminalize marijuana, provide universal, single-payer health care, and make a college education tuition-free.
Additional reporting by Kira Lerner.