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November 10 2016

Star-Power Failed to Energize Millennials at the Polls

Patrice L. Onwuka

In the last weeks of the 2016 presidential campaign, the Hillary Clinton campaign trotted out squads of celebrities to boost support among a key demographic of the so-called Obama coalition: Millennials. But neither Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus or Jay-Z or Beyoncé were enough to excite millennials to the polls.

We only have exit polling to examine, which may be imperfect or even way off on how Americans actually voted, but they do tell us that young people just weren’t fired up to vote for Clinton.

While there was no lift for Republicans among millennials, Democrats lost support among the youth demographic. Exit polls find that Hillary Clinton grabbed 54 percent of 18-29 vote while Donald Trump won 37 percent. However, President Barack Obama won 60 percent in 2012 while Romney captured 37 percent. Interestingly, third-party candidate Gary Johnson captured 5 percent of the youth vote this year, most likely pulling from the progressive vote rather than the conservative vote.

According to CNN’s exit polls, while Hillary Clinton won among young Latinos (70 percent) and blacks (83 percent), she got a smaller portion of young white voters (48 percent). She also was not able to capture the non-college graduate vote. Voters with high school or less or perhaps some college voted more for Donald Trump than for Clinton (51 percent to 45 percent and 52 percent to 43 percent, respectively).

Celebrities were supposed to be the key in the final stretch, but as early results show, they didn’t deliver the expected results.

In the final couple of weeks of the campaign, we saw a celebrity surge that inundated urban areas, the social media world, and the airwaves in support of the Democratic candidate. Clinton’s closing rallies look more like a music festival tour. The free concerts were aimed at getting young people fired up and to demonstrate that she could gather the masses in her support. Katy Perry in Philadelphia and one mega concert headlined by Beyoncé and Jay-Z in Cleveland that also featured rappers Chance and Big Sean were highlights. Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony teamed up in Miami to push for Latino engagement. The old people weren’t forgotten either. James Taylor trumped up support in North Carolina and Stevie Wonder was led out to energize older Black voters. Even Madonna gave a “surprise” pop-up concert in New York.

The events were costly to put on, but that’s no matter when votes were critical. The Clinton campaign needed them get young people excited to turn out, in a way that Trump did not. Interestingly, then-candidate Obama used concerts for his first presidential campaign, but they lacked the star power of those from the last week. He was the star power as Politico describes:

The events can cost millions of dollars to put on, and they're not a new tactic, having been used to greatest effect in 2008, when Obama — who, unlike Clinton, drew enormous crowds in the closing days of his campaign even without celebrity performances — used a mix of small gospel events and a wide array of big concerts. Big Sean, speaking on stage on Friday, even revealed that he was in the audience at Jay Z’s concert for Obama that year in Detroit

Now, we see that all of the celebrity star power was not enough to convince young people to turn out to vote. This tells us that celebrity endorsements sell sneakers and energy drinks, but not the leader of the free world.

Perhaps, young people aren’t as different from their elders as politicians think. We think about issues and what improves our lives. The bottom line is important to us.

Millennials helped sweep President Obama into office in 2008, but disappointed with his first term, scaled back their support in 2012. They realized that an impressive orator with big promises simply dumped unfair costs on our shoulders. Just look at ObamaCare. We’ve recognized a bad deal and refused to sign up leading to massive losses to insurers and higher costs.

Facing a possible repeal of his healthcare legacy, President Obama has learned an important lesson about young people and now Hillary Clinton has too.

Independent Women's Forum is an educational 501(c)(3) dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities. IWF is the sister organization of the Independent Women’s Voice.​
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