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For Trump and Clinton it's down to the wire – and undecided Millennials

  • Published at 06:47 am November 6th, 2016
For Trump and Clinton it's down to the wire – and undecided Millennials
Millennials are about to decide America's future. Who are they and why is winning them over such a challenging task for both Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton? The Millennial generation refers to the age cohort born between 1979 and 1997, pollster John Zogby explained to the Dhaka Tribune in Washington, DC. Millennials constitute 31% of the electorate and are the largest independent voting bloc. Translation: they represent a vast slice of the electoral pie and aren't affiliated with the major parties in America's two-party duopoly. In April this year, Millennials surpassed Baby Boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) as America's largest generation, according to the Pew Research Centre. But as a vote pool they aren't just big and desirable, they're complicated. Millennials are, for instance, financially conservative but socially progressive, making the traditional Democratic (financially and socially liberal) and Republican (financially and socially conservative) positions equally objectionable. Their peculiar mix of sensibilities make both Trump and Clinton equally unpalatable, the Millennial Action Project's Steven Olikara explained. Having grown up in the shadow of the Iraq and Afghan Wars, Millennials are wary of foreign intervention, making Trump's tough talk a turn off. But they also have a robust distrust of government, so Clinton's emailgate fiasco could prove to be disastrous. Indeed, 80% of Millennials want the political class to go – which is what Trump claims to offer – meaning Clinton's decades of public service don't serve her cause with them. On the other hand, Trump's blustering put downs of women and minorities are offensive to a generation that has taken the demographic lead largely due to immigration and that boasts the largest number of study-abroads in US history. Forty-one percent of Millennials do identify as Democrat. But their candidate of choice was Socialist Bernie Sanders. His loss to Hilary Clinton in the Democratic primaries left already disaffected Millennials disillusioned and increasingly disinterested. Far fewer identify as Republican but a large number remain unaffiliated to either major party. That is where, as in all recent US presidential contests, the action will be. If enough undecided Millennials vote for third party candidates such as Libertarian Gary Johnson, the Green Party's Jill Stein or Utah anti-Trump Republican-backed independent Evan McMullin, it could tip the polls. Indeed, McMullin's gamble is to block both major party candidates from winning the necessary 270 electoral college votes needed to bag the White House by winning Utah's six votes. That would send the tiebreaker poll to the House of Representatives. But that has not happened in 192 years. Moreover, netting Utah's electoral votes offers no guarantee of blocking Clinton or Trump from winning 270 votes. McMullin's own chances are slim: a third-party candidate hasn't won electoral votes since 1968. The problem for Clinton and Trump, aside from being generally unattractive candidates because of the issues described above, is that this generation of digital natives can be hard to reach out to. Hilary Clinton's now infamous Tweet calling on Millennials to describe their feelings about student debt in three emojis or less came across to Millennials as pandering and backfired, according to Olikara. For a generation that “comes to civics via issues and causes,” to use Olikara's description, disingenuous overtures about key issues of concern – student debt, climate change, jobs, campaign finance reform and immigration reform – simply don't work. After all, debt burdens in the hundreds of thousands of dollars will mean that home and even car ownership will be delayed for Millennials by years and even decades compared to their parents. Issue-based campaign ads don't cut it either. Millennials' distrust of traditional media – most do not watch television – and of the political system has meant that advertising and the ratings game are particularly disliked. The fact that inflammatory rhetoric has had traditional media outlets cashing in on the Trump Bump – record viewership translating into record profits – is just the kind of thing that convinces Millennials that the system is irreparably broken, according to Olikara. Neither big party candidate has much chance of looking desirable, apart from coming across as the lesser of two evils. As things stand, Caucasian millennials are evenly split between Clinton and Trump; non-Caucasians favour Clinton. Both Clinton and Trump must convince infamously short attention-spanned Millennials that they are ready to steer the 21st century economy – which for that generation has meant a debt-ridden gig economy – towards something approaching opportunity. They must convince them to actually cast their votes – because only 45% of Millennials compared with 60% generally turn out. They must convey this in the politician's equivalent of 140 characters or less – without offending anyone. And they must do this in the next 48 hours.
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