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Voices of Voters: Millennials In The 2016 Presidential Race

Andy Chow
An audience of mostly millennial voters watches the first presidential debate in the Gateway Theatre in Columbus.

Millennial voters are tied with Baby Boomers as the largest single group of potential voters. The Pew Research Center says there are 69 million people between 18 and 39 – that's 31% of the voting population in America. But they’re the least likely to vote. In this installment of the Statehouse News Bureau’s series featuring voices of voters, younger voters speak out about their issues – and whether they’re motivated to turn out this time. 

An enthusiastic crowd packed a Columbus movie theater, eagerly waiting to watch the first presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. This crowd, which was heavy on the pro-Clinton side, treated the debate like a spectator sport. They laughed when Clinton said, "I call it ‘Trumped up, trickle down.’” They booed when she said, “Well, it did collapse…” and Trump responded, “That’s called business, by the way.” And they cheered when Clinton said, "I know you live in your own reality.”

This viewing party was at the Gateway Film Center just outside of Ohio State University’s main campus. These events, paired with cocktails, beer and popcorn, have become gathering places for young voters from Columbus who want a unique debate watching experience. And their vote, the millennial vote, is a hot commodity. Kaitlyn Murray is a 26-year-old graduate student at OSU. She says those kinds of numbers could be a turning point for her generation. “I think there’s a fantastic opportunity to mobilize young people especially now as millennials are forces within the workplace," Murray said. "I think that anyone who underestimates the power of a millennial is making a grave mistake.” Murray says a huge issue she and her friends want addressed is college affordability and the need to cut down on student debt.

Julie Powell is a 33-year-old who supports Clinton says raising the minimum wage is one priority for her. She adds that there’s another pressing issue as more people in her age group start to have children: “Paid child leave.” Her friend, 26-year-old Nikki Freman, adds, “Oh yeah maternity leave? Super important. Paternity leave. Right? In terms of trying to reassess our gender roles in terms of child care and things like that."

A recent Quinnipiac poll shows that Clinton is gaining ground with millennial voters, now polling at 48%. This was a group that never really went for Donald Trump but, until recently, was spread out more evenly among the minor party candidates, Libertarian Gary Johnson and the Green Party’s Jill Stein. That illustrates a big hurdle Clinton has faced with this group, because Murray, Powell and Freman all have another thing in common - they were all supporters of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary.  And that kind of support for Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders among young voters still has its effect on the race.

But on the other side, 21-one-year-old Republican Madi Gomez finds herself up in the air over the election. She’s for fiscally conservative approaches to fixing the economy but has trouble wrapping her head around voting for Trump.  Gomez says younger voters, especially college students, may have more power this election but they haven’t been exposed to life in the workforce outside of lower paying jobs. “So we aren’t really questioning anything about taxes and I think everyone wants to do the right thing, but no one’s thinking about what’s going to help the greater good opposed to what you just see,” Gomez said.

It’s safe to say the parties and the candidates will continue to try to drive voter turnout by addressing the issues that are important to younger voters, such as race relations, income inequality and climate change.

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