Everybody wants the youth vote. Republicans and Democrats often use celebrity endorsements, promises of free college, social media campaigns, and all the hashtags in their efforts to woo millennials.
The Democrats have an advantage, in that they’ve amassed almost 100 percent support from America’s celebrity and pop culture stars. Hillary Clinton has Lena Dunham and Justin Timberlake; Donald Trump couldn’t even get Tim Tebow to show up at the Republican National Convention.
But celebrity isn’t everything, as this election has pointed out. This year’s youth vote is especially attracted to a hipster ethic that’s critical of the mainstream. Millennials are just as likely to reject Hillary Clinton as they are Donald Trump. They might view a Katy Perry endorsement enthusiastically—or they might scoff at the idea of voting for Hillary (as they listen to their vinyl records and drink cold brew coffee from vintage mason jars). No one expected Bernie Sanders to attract such a significant, passionate following among millennial voters. He came out of nowhere, and so did his base.
But as difficult as it might be for an establishment Democrat like Hillary to win over these hard-to-get young people, it’s nigh impossible for Republicans. As Kristin Tate wrote in a Thursday article for The Hill, “In recent memory, Democrats including President Obama and Bernie Sanders successfully tapped into the massive youth vote. But only one Republican has excited millennials: Ron Paul.”
Millennials Want Authenticity
There’s a reason Ron Paul is the only candidate besides Obama and Bernie to garner a substantial millennial following: he’s authentic.
Millennials love “genuine” candidates, ones who show consistent allegiance to a set of principles or beliefs. As Tate puts it, “Authenticity — or at least the appearance of authenticity — is arguably the most important factor when it comes to millennials. Voters are sick of hearing politicians read scripted speeches from teleprompters.”
This was the appeal of Bernie Sanders: he was decidedly outside the political establishment. He had the tousled, rumpled look of an outsider. His speeches didn’t feel scripted or trite. (He even used to be a carpenter and folk singer. It doesn’t get more hipster than that.)
Like Sanders, Ron Paul has been doggedly consistent and “authentic” over the course of his career. “He’s touted the same fundamental beliefs during the entire span of his 37-year career in politics, never wavering,” writes Tate. Because of this, he has a remarkably loyal following.
Funnily enough, “authenticity”—of a sort—is the reason many have given for supporting Donald Trump. He “tells it like it is,” supporters say. However, it’s important to differentiate this desire for political incorrectness or candidness from the more millennial desire for “authenticity.” Trump says whatever he thinks, and some find that admirable; but he has not demonstrated the intellectual or personal consistency necessary to garner millennials’ support. Trump says one thing, and often does another; he’s willing to take shortcuts and use the system to get ahead. Bernie Sanders and Ron Paul, in contrast, rail against the corruption and injustice of that same system.
So while Trump offers millennials plenty of #sorrynotsorry moments, he doesn’t quite appeal to their #nofilter aesthetic.
Millennials Are Remarkably Independent
But it’s not just the “authenticity” of a Paul or Sanders that draws the millennial vote. According FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver, millennial voters are more independent than any of the generations before them. They are not afraid of words like “socialist” or “libertarian”—rather, they’re often intrigued by these parties beyond the mainstream.
Just like many young people are moving away from pop artists and chain restaurants, lots of millennials are challenging the political orthodoxy of their parents. They’re looking for candidates who are different, maybe even a little controversial.
On the actual issues, millennials often sway libertarian: they’re fiscally conservative, value the right to privacy, and reject stricter gun laws. (Although Bernie’s rise to fame suggests that no college student or grad is going to say no to free college and freedom from student loan debt.)
But as millennial Bonnie Kristian wrote for Rare, “Millennials like me have grown into adulthood with an awful economy and constant war. Each new newsday seems to bring yet another report of some secret, dastardly way the government is violating our liberties and trampling the rule of law.”
These folks, unhappy as they are with the status quo, are not eager to join Clinton’s camp. They want change.
Millennials Are Looking For Consistency
In an article about Ron Paul’s 80th birthday party, Kristian shared this story she heard about Paul during the festivities:
Before Paul went on stage to speak at the Arab American Institute’s National Leadership Conference in 2007, someone asked if he’d prepared a special talk for that night’s unique audience. “No,” Paul replied, “it’s the same speech I give everywhere.”
It’s that consistency — that commitment, as Woods phrased it, to simply “telling unpopular truths to audiences of all kinds” — that makes Paul beloved among those who agree with him and respected among those who don’t.
In truth, very few politicians have demonstrated this sort of consistency. This isn’t always indicative of horrible sin and duplicity—sometimes, it’s just indicative of our political reality. Those who work in Washington often have to give up or alter their intended goals to fit what’s possible. Bernie Sanders himself, despite the hopeful idealism many youngsters see in him, is not the perfectly consistent candidate that many assume him to be.
However, this overall desire for integrity continues to drive millennial voters—and to push them away from candidates like Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Neither presidential candidate has been particularly consistent over the course of their political or personal histories. Their pasts are riddled with mystery, backpedaling, flip-flopping, and waffling. Perhaps this, more than anything else, is what distances them from the youth vote.
People like Paul—who demonstrate staunch adherence to a set of principles—are refreshingly counter to mainstream politicians’ inconstancy. They appeal to the millennial crowd with their dependability, and with their idealism.
Who Should Millennials Vote For In 2016?
But there isn’t a Bernie Sanders or Ron Paul on the ballot this year. And that’s a reality young people are going to have to accept. As voters, we too must ask ourselves how best to balance idealism and consistency with realism and compromise.
There are few Ron Pauls in the world, and we may have to forgive our politicians for their failings of inauthenticity and inconsistency. We’ll have to discover which issues—beyond aesthetic appeal and manner—draw us toward a specific candidate. And then we’ll have to bite the bullet, and cast our ballot.