The Hillary Clinton campaign is “alarmed by the drift of young voters toward the third-party candidates,” according to the New York Times. So are many Clinton supporters, including Clara Jeffery and Kevin Drum at Mother Jones. Jeffery says she has “never hated millennials more,” while Drum directs his hatred not at millennials but at Bernie Sanders, whom Drum argues “convinced young voters that Hillary Clinton was a shifty, corrupt, lying shill who cared nothing for real progressive values – despite a literal lifetime of fighting for them.” Clinton Super PAC Priorities USA is “launching a multimillion-dollar digital campaign that talks about what’s at stake and how a vote for a third-party candidate is a vote for Donald Trump.”
These reactions misunderstand and condescend to millennials and ignore vital context about two main points.
First, millennials have very good reasons to oppose a Clinton presidency. As I’ve tried to explain to Drum before (he has ignored me), many millennials, myself included, grew up with his perception of Hillary Clinton – that she is a good Democrat fighting the mean Republicans and subject to a relentless stream of unfair criticism from the corporate press. It has only been during my adult life, after a lot of research, that I’ve developed my current view: Clinton may sometimes be the subject of unfair press coverage, but she also has a large, influential group of media cheerleaders and has been on the wrong side of numerous issues important to populations I care about: war, criminal justice, immigrant rights, LGBT rights, the death penalty, international trade, and anti-poverty policy, to name a few. Drum’s idea that Bernie Sanders’ accurate critiques of Hillary Clinton’s record hoodwinked millennials into our current views is both patronizing and inaccurate.
Millennials recognize that third-party voting comes with tradeoffs. While it does increase the likelihood that the worse of two major-party candidates will emerge victorious in an election (though much less so than third-party critics claim), it also has the potential to help break the two-party system open in the long run and holds Democrats accountable for ignoring the policies their base desires, policies that would help millions of disadvantaged people. “Whether you think the pros outweigh the cons depends on a number of factors,” as I’ve argued before, “including how much optimism you have about a third-party voting bloc’s ability to use its power effectively and how much worse you think Trump is than Clinton.”
Which brings me to my second point: while it’s perfectly fine for someone to believe that defeating Trump should be our top priority, anyone espousing that viewpoint should have supported Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary. The evidence overwhelmingly indicated – for months, getting stronger all the time – that Sanders would have been more likely than Clinton to beat Trump in a general election matchup. The only rebuttal to that evidence – that Sanders hadn’t faced real criticism and that his numbers would tank when he did, if he eventually became the nominee – fell apart very quickly upon inspection.
The third-party candidates draw their strongest support from younger voters. Twenty-six percent of voters ages 18 to 29 say they plan to vote for Mr. Johnson, and another 10 percent back Ms. Stein. A little more than one in five political independents say they will vote for one of the third-party candidates.
Drum points out that millennial support for third-party candidates in the referenced poll is a bit higher than it typically appears to be (he also links to a FiveThirtyEight analysis suggesting that it is strongest among people under 25), but he admits that “Clinton is clearly doing worse among millennials than Obama did four years ago.” These results were completely predictable; millennials and independents were the groups among which Sanders most dominated Clinton in the primary and are two constituencies for whom support for Democrats (and/or showing up in November) is most likely to be conditional. “Voters in these groups – unlike voters in Clinton’s key constituencies – may very well abandon the Democrats if Clinton is the party’s nominee,” I wrote in March. That’s exactly what appears to be happening.
Despite the foreseeability of this result during the primary, Drum asserted that Clinton was “almost certain to be more electable in November than a self-declared democratic socialist,” citing exactly no evidence to back up this claim. It seems odd that he, Jeffery, and other Democrats spent so little of their time analyzing the electability evidence during the primary, given their intense focus on beating Trump today. If they had, they would have known what people like me had been trying to tell them for a very long time – large numbers of millennials and Independents who would vote for Sanders might very well not vote for Clinton – and, if beating Trump was their prime objective, spent their time pleading with older Democratic voters to support Sanders.
Millennial voting patterns are thus not only a product of voters’ legitimate analyses and electoral strategy; they’re also entirely expected. Those upset about them who backed Clinton in the primary and/or advanced the incorrect notion that she was more electable than Sanders have nobody to “hate” but themselves.