Friday, February 5, 2016

If you thought Hillary's Iowa youth vote was a disaster, look how hard she tried

Hillary Clinton's abysmal 14% showing among Iowans under 30 has been rightly regarded as a disaster for her campaign. For all her talk about preserving Obama's legacy, Clinton's inability to win young people represents a direct rollback of one of his central achievements: the Obama coalition, organized to win the future for Democrats with a central focus on young voters. Her failure to protect Obama's progress on this front doesn't just put the immediate election at risk (although it does that, too) - it threatens the party's prospects for generations to come.

One underappreciated aspect of Clinton's Iowa failure, however, is that it was an active failure. It is not something that just happened to her; it was a direct and predictable outcome that she deliberately set out to avoid. This is of course not the first time Clinton has catastrophically bungled a major political objective that she set out to achieve - just the opposite - but it's one of her more easily demonstrable failures, so it's worth reflecting on at length.

Patrick Caldwell, writing for Mother Jones, spelled out the problem in an article with a title that, in retrospect, Democrats should find unsettling:


Caldwell notes that in 2008, Clinton simply gave up on young voters, particularly in the run-up to Iowa:
Instead of appealing to twentysomething voters, the Clintonites went on the offensive, trying to peel away older voters and depress Obama turnout by inciting generational warfare. "This is a process for Iowans," Clinton said about a month before the caucuses, a pointed comment aimed at college students after the Obama campaign distributed pamphlets encouraging them to vote.
The strategy was an epic failure: Clinton only won 11% of Iowans under 30 in 2008 and placed third in the primary behind Obama and John Edwards. In the wake of Obama's victory, Caldwell writes that she recognized her mistake and decided to hone in on the
one key voting bloc that derailed her presidential bid: college students and young adults...[and Clinton] is already hard at work to make sure history doesn't repeat itself should she decide to enter the race. 
From there, Caldwell describes the careful planning and extraordinary investments that went into her latest abject failure. Clinton's SuperPAC, Ready for Hillary, worked with former Obama staff, studied his 2008 youth campaign, and coordinated with a consulting firm to build an elaborate "snowflake model" campus organizing strategy. Despite their best efforts, however, it seems that Clinton's campaign remained both deluded and baffled by the politics of young Americans:
Ready for Hillary doesn't have much in the way of an explanation for why the current crop of college Democrats are more welcoming to Clinton than the last generation. Schneider couldn't offer more than a shrug of her shoulders when I posed that question to her.
Ultimately, it seems clear that her campaign has settled on a condescending approach to young voters that humors them with stylistic nods while remaining essentially unchanged from 2008:
Hillary's newfound appeal among young voters seems less about substance and more about a shift in style...she's embraced a more modern image, tweeting and sporting chic sunglasses in her profile picture. And current students never lived through the Clinton battles of yore. For the kids Ready for Hillary aims to organize, blue dresses, selling out welfare, and Black Hawks down are mere pop-culture relics rather than vivid representations of the politics of the past... 
"She's been doing things over the last few years that are designed to have a bigger youth appeal," [Tobin] Van Ostern says of Clinton. "...even the simple things like being willing to poke fun at herself on Twitter and that whole meme. Those things, while they're pretty light, they humanize a candidate. What young people really look for universally is authenticity."
The results speak for themselves: for all of her financial investments, consultants, and pandering brand recalibration, Clinton won a meager 3% more than she could pull together in 2008.

This should certainly be disheartening to younger voters, and to anyone who values the achievements of the Obama coalition. Instead of waging open generational warfare as she did eight years ago, Clinton has clearly decided to take the fight underground, veiling the same old boomer politics with cheap pop culture cameos and embarrassing emoji gimmicks. Young voters see through all of this, and if they spend the next eight years voting against her the Democratic Party may have a tough time ever winning them back.

But even older voters who aren't overly invested in the plight of millennials should be concerned about the sheer incompetence of Clinton's attempt to win them. This is particularly true since Clinton is promoting herself as a pragmatic dealmaker and savvy centrist who can win the cooperation of her Republican opponents. If she can't even peel off 3% of a demographic historically inclined to support her, what hope does she have with the GOP?