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    Evan Horowitz | Quick Study

    Can Hillary Clinton win without millennials?

    Hillary Clinton gave an address at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture Tuesday in New York City.
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    Hillary Clinton gave an address at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture Tuesday in New York City.

    Hillary Clinton is struggling with young people. In New Hampshire and Iowa, over 80 percent of the under-30 crowd voted for Bernie Sanders, leaving just one in six youth votes for Clinton.

    That’s not a gap; it’s a chasm.

    It’s possible Clinton could win the nomination without repositioning herself with youth voters — after all, she did manage a narrow victory in Iowa. But her conspicuous lack of support among young people raises serious questions about the breadth of her appeal.


    Happily for Clinton, there’s more to this story than Sanders’ runaway numbers. Young people may not be voting for her, but they tell pollsters they’re still relatively enthusiastic about a Clinton candidacy, which could be good news for the Democrats if Clinton ultimately wins the nomination.

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    Right now though, with the Democratic nomination still in flux, it seems that young voters’ warm feelings for Clinton can’t compete with their passion for Sanders.

    How badly has Clinton done with young voters?

    If the 2016 primary were being decided by millennials, Clinton wouldn’t stand a chance.

    Nearly 17 of every 20 young voters in New Hampshire and Iowa opted for Sanders, compared to just three Clinton supporters. That’s the kind of landslide you rarely see outside of rigged elections in pseudodemocracies.

    The reason Hillary Clinton was able to win in Iowa despite this enormous youth deficit is because senior citizens greatly outnumbered millennials at the caucuses — and the seniors broke for Clinton in big numbers. But in New Hampshire, Clinton couldn’t build a winning coalition of older voters.

    Do young people dislike Clinton?


    When voters enter the ballot box, or participate in a caucus, they need to choose between Clinton and Sanders. There’s no “I like them both” option. So from the results alone, it’s hard to tell whether young voters are flocking to Sanders because they dislike Clinton — or because they have a slight preference for his brand of politics.

    Looking at other polling questions, however, can provide a fuller picture. For instance, pollsters often ask whether voters “have a favorable view of” this or that candidate. And when answering that question, voters don’t have to choose. They can express favorable opinions about Clinton, Sanders, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and anyone else they may happen to like.

    When the independent MassINC polling group asked young New Hampshire voters how they felt about Clinton, nearly 60 percent said they had a favorable view of her. That’s certainly lower than the 83 percent of young, likely voters with a favorable view of Sanders, but it’s a lot closer than the voting would suggest.

    The left-leaning Public Policy Polling group asked a similar question in Iowa, and it got a similar answer. Clinton had a 57 percent favorability rating among 18- to 29-year-olds, compared to 76 percent for Sanders.

    What does this mean moving forward?

    If Clinton does end up claiming the nomination — and it’s still a big if — young Democrats are likely to swing her way for the general election. Partly that’s because party loyalties have gotten tighter, as polarization and partisanship have increased. But Clinton’s relatively strong favorability is another sign of her good standing.


    First, she has to get that nomination. And unless she can start attracting young voters, that could be challenging.

    Clinton is still expected to show her real strength in the South and Southwest, where her broader appeal among minority voters should give her a bump. The current polling in South Carolina bears this out — with Clinton leading by 20-points — but her ability to make inroads among young voters looks pretty limited.

    The most recent CBS/YouGov tracking poll shows her trailing 63 to 37 among 18- to 29-year-olds. To be sure, that’s vastly better than she did in New Hampshire or Iowa, but it still leaves her well behind.

    Evan Horowitz digs through data to find information that illuminates the policy issues facing Massachusetts and the United States. He can be reached at evan.horowitz@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeHorowitz.