BY Claire Wang
Paris Martineau started her freshman year at New York University just as Bernie Sanders’ campaign caught fire among millennials. The following seven months have been a constant and taxing struggle to defend her choice to support her longtime idol, Hillary Clinton.
Being a Clinton supporter at a school as liberal as NYU can be an alienating experience, Martineau said. Student comments on her pro-Clinton opinion pieces for the Washington Square News range from mockery of her naivety to attacks on her presumed white privilege. On her article about Clinton’s superior LGBT policies, a commenter shamed her for defending a candidate who “Previously treated us like dirt” and “debated our basic human rights as if we were a commodity.”
The flood of hateful social media comments directed at Clinton has discouraged Martineau from actively campaigning for the former Secretary of State. “I constantly read posts about how much students here ‘hate’ Hillary and all her supporters,” she said. Not wanting to argue with–or worse, lose– friends, she only voices her support on her social media pages. Some people rolled their eyes when they saw her Hillary button, she said, while others have tried to convince her to vote for Sanders even though they know she is pro-Clinton.
Millennials in the Clinton camp find themselves in a paradoxical position: their candidate is the clear front-runner, yet they’re defying a large majority of peers who are “Feeling the Bern.” Sanders has won the under-30 in every primary state other than Alabama and Mississippi. One key reason for that, said Martin Wattenberg, author of Is Voting for Young People, is that “only people who most want change” vote in primaries, which, in this case, are Sanders’ millennial supporters.
Millennials are very active on social media, negating the media’s labeling of them as the “apathetic” or “disengaged” generation, said Alison Novak, author of Media, Millennials, and Politics: The Coming of Age of the Next Political Generation. However, she admitted that their outspoken support of one candidate could come off as overwhelming and hostile. “When you see so many pro-Sanders comments on Facebook,” she said, “it can be intimidating to admit that you’re not ‘Feeling the Bern.’”
But as Clinton wrapped up an important victory in New York on the 19th–and seemingly the nomination–her younger supporters are finally starting to raise their voices on social media, in publications, and through campaigns to prove that they do indeed exist.
Austin Rivers, founder of the NYU for Hillary group, has supported Clinton long before she announced her bid for president, and said that her experience in foreign policy and more realistic plan to lower college tuition makes her a much more capable candidate than Sanders. “Bernie has good ideas but lacks the experience and knowledge to implement them,” he said.
The number of Clinton backers has been steadily growing as she gets closer to nabbing the nomination, Rivers said. Since its establishment last July, NYU for Hillary has obtained more than 200 members–including three professors–and has started making a bigger push across campus to prepare for the general election. “Plenty of College students support Hillary,” he said. “That niche just isn’t as widely known because college Bernie supporters are very, very vocal on social media.”
Still, the Hillary surge has not discouraged many Sanders’ supporters. Angela Yoo, a junior at Carnegie Mellon University, said that a group of anti-Clinton protestors crashed an on-campus Clinton rally at which her cappella group performed. Though non-violent, the protesters were loud and distracting, she said, “Basically like Bernie supporters in a nutshell.”
Yoo supports the former First Lady for her ability to deftly use compromises to pass legislations, and thinks that Clinton’s perceived lack of authenticity is more of a “biased media construct” than serious character flaw. Major news outlets unfairly focus more on Clinton’s scandals than her policies, she said, because the former “produces better stories.”
Both Yoo and Martineau, however, remain positive that Sanders supporters, even those who claim, “Bernie or Bust,” will vote for Clinton in the general election should she win the nomination. In a race between Clinton and Trump, Sanders supporters will choose the former because “they share the most values with her,” Martineau said.
The numbers are starting to back them up. Although Sanders has dominated the millennial vote in the Democratic races, under-30s overwhelmingly favor Clinton over Trump, according to a USA Today poll from March. Should the two meet in November, 52% of under-35s said they would vote for Clinton, while only 19% said they would back Trump; Clinton would also win both the young male and female votes by more than 30%.
The most effective way to win the millennial vote is to obtain Sanders’ endorsement should Clinton win the nomination, Novak said, citing Clinton’s own endorsement of Obama at the Democratic Convention in 2008. “An endorsement often gives supporters the permission to switch allegiance to the other candidate,” she said. “If Sanders does this, it could go a long way to gain her younger support.”