By Aaron Blake
The Washington Post
Hillary Clinton’s campaign has lots of excuses for losing. There’s the electoral college, James Comey, the media’s alleged over-exuberance in digging into Clinton’s email server, etc. But Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook said Thursday that one particular group is especially to blame: millennials.
As Karen Tumulty and Philip Rucker reported from the big election postmortem at Harvard on Thursday night:
Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook also acknowledged that her operation had made a number of mistakes and miscalculations, while being buffeted by what he repeatedly described as a “headwind” of being an establishment candidate in a season where voters were anxious for change.
He noted, for example, that younger voters, perhaps assuming that Clinton was going to win, migrated to third-party candidates in the final days of the race.
Where the campaign needed to win upward of 60 percent of young voters, it was able to garner something “in the high 50s at the end of the day,” Mook said. “That’s why we lost.”
I’ll admit I was skeptical. Young people often get blamed for not showing up to vote; they’re an easy target that way. What’s more, just before the election, polls indicated that young voters — who had previously shunned Clinton — were actually rallying to her in a big way.
Digging into the numbers, however, Mook has a point.
The national exit poll shows Clinton underperformed Barack Obama’s 2012 share of the vote by one point with those between the ages of 30 and 44 and by three points with those ages 45 to 64. She actually overperformed him by one point with those over 65.
Among those between 18 and 29, though, she took five points less — 55 percent versus Obama’s 60 percent. Here’s how those numbers compare to 2012:
Clinton’s 55-36 margin among those ages 18 to 29 is also significantly worse than late polls suggested it would be. A mid-October poll from the Harvard Institute of Politics showed her leading Trump 49 to 21 with third-party candidates included and 59 to 29 in a two-way matchup with Trump — either a 28- or 30-point margin. A GenForward survey conducted by the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, meanwhile, had her up 41 points, 60 to 19.
These were large, quality surveys testing only young people, but they differed hugely from the results. Clinton’s final margin was 19.
They, of course, are national polls, and the race was really decided in a handful of close states — Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, in particular. And sure enough, Clinton did even worse among young people in those states, according to exit polls.
While Clinton’s national margin of victory among young people was only four points worse than Obama’s 60-to-37 edge, Michigan’s exit poll shows her margin among young people there was five points worse (+28 for Obama vs. +23 for Clinton). In Florida, it was 16 points worse (+34 vs. +18). In Pennsylvania, it was 17 points worse (+28 vs. +9). And in Wisconsin, it was 20 points worse (+23 vs. +3).
Caveat: Exit polls, like any polls, are subject to error. Did Trump really only lose young people in Wisconsin by only three points? I’m very skeptical.
But if that number is anywhere close to accurate, it accounts for Clinton’s narrow loss in the Badger State. The exit polls suggest Clinton netted about half a point overall from young people given she won them 47 to 44 and they comprised 17 percent of the electorate. Obama, by contrast, netted nearly five points when he won them 60 to 37 and they were 21 percent of Wisconsin’s electorate. Clinton lost the state by less than a point, so that difference more than accounts for it. We’re extrapolating here, and it’s inexact, but the fact is that even if Clinton had come anywhere close to Obama’s share of the youth vote, she would have held onto Wisconsin.
The story is similar in Pennsylvania. Clinton won those under 30 years old 52 to 43 after Obama won them 63 to 35, and in Florida, where Clinton won them 54 to 46 versus Obama’s 66 to 32. It was closer in Michigan, where Clinton won the 57 to 34 versus Obama’s 63 to 35. But, if you run the numbers in each state, had Clinton simply come closer to Obama’s margin with young people, she would have won.
So if you accept the exit polls, it’s clear Clinton did significantly worse among young people, and it was more than enough to make the difference in the states that mattered. But what if she wasn’t supposed to do as well among young people as Obama did? Obama certainly had a unique appeal to them that would seem hard for an older candidate with less of a demonstrated millennial appeal to replicate.
That’s fair, but it’s also worth noting here just how much young people hated Trump. Harvard showed just 22 percent of young likely voters had a favorable opinion of Trump, while 76 percent had an unfavorable one. Basically every poll showed something similar.
It’s true that young people never seemed to love Clinton. Even Harvard’s poll showing her up big revealed that more young likely voters disliked her (51 percent) than liked her (48 percent). But it seemed their distaste for Trump was leading them to coalesce around the lesser of two evils.
In the end, it just doesn’t appear to have happened as much as Clinton needed it to. In short: Robby Mook was right.