WASHINGTON — Hillary Clinton is struggling to make inroads among young Americans who overwhelmingly supported Bernie Sanders during the Democratic presidential primary, a worrisome sign as she tries to reassemble the coalition that twice propelled Barack Obama into the White House.
Opinions of Clinton among young Americans vary by race and ethnicity, according to a new GenForward poll of adults ages 18 to 30. The majority of the nation’s younger blacks and Asian-Americans have a favorable impression of Clinton, but the presumptive Democratic nominee struggles with whites and Hispanics.
Just 26 percent of young whites and 49 percent of Hispanics have a positive opinion of the former secretary of state. Both groups overwhelmingly say she is not trustworthy.
“I just don’t see her being honest and straightforward,” said Alexander Tomas, an 18-year-old Hispanic from Fort Worth, Texas. A recent high school graduate, Tomas supported Sanders in the state’s Democratic primary, but says he’s now undecided about his choice in November’s general election.
GenForward is a survey by the Black Youth Project at the University of Chicago with the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. The first-of-its-kind poll pays special attention to the voices of young adults of color, highlighting how race and ethnicity shape the opinions of the country’s most diverse generation.
The survey polled all young adults, not necessarily registered or likely voters, but the findings suggest Clinton may struggle to turn out people 18 to 30 to support her candidacy. While Clinton emerged victorious in her unexpectedly tough primary with Sanders, the contest revealed a stunning weakness with such young voters.
The GenForward poll found that among those who preferred Sanders in the primaries, only half are prepared to say they’ll back Clinton in her general election face-off with presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump. About a quarter say they won’t support Clinton, and nearly a quarter say they’re not sure.
Clinton has made moves in recent days to attract some of Sanders’ loyal young supporters, including unveiling a college affordability plan that would make in-state tuition free for families making $125,000 or less per year. Sanders proposed free tuition at public higher education institutions for all, a plan supported by three-quarters of young adults, according to the survey.
Clinton spokeswoman Xochitl Hinojosa said the candidate “believes we must do everything we can to make sure that millennial voters have their voice heard in our campaign.” She noted that the campaign recently hired three former Sanders aides to lead an effort to boost outreach to young people.
Young people were an important part of the diverse coalition Obama put together during his two successful White House runs. Exit polls found that Obama carried 66 percent of voters 18-30 years old in the 2008 election and 60 percent during his re-election campaign.
While Obama carried the majority of younger white voters in 2008, his support dipped to 44 percent in 2012. The president had the overwhelming backing of black and Hispanic voters under 30 in both campaigns, mirroring his overall support from both groups.
But the GenForward poll shows weaknesses in Clinton’s support among young Hispanics, who prefer Sanders to Clinton by nearly a 3-to-1 margin. More than 4 in 10 had an unfavorable opinion of Clinton, and they were also more likely to say Clinton is untrustworthy and slightly more likely to say she’s unqualified to be president than young African Americans.
Clinton’s support is strongest among young blacks, half of whom consider her honest and trustworthy and two-thirds of whom say they have a favorable opinion of Clinton. Among young Asians, 55 percent view Clinton at least somewhat favorably.
While Clinton campaign officials acknowledge their candidate’s disconnect with young people, they see the prospect of a Trump presidency as perhaps the best way to motivate those voters in November.
Indeed, the GenForward poll found that Trump’s standing with young people is staggeringly negative. Just 19 percent of young voters have a favorable opinion of the businessman, including 6 percent of African-Americans, 10 percent of Hispanics and 12 percent of Asian-Americans. While Trump performs strongest with young whites, only 27 percent view him favorably.
“I’m very afraid of the potential for his presidency,” said Emily Erickson, a 30-year-old from Minneapolis who is planning to vote for Clinton. Erickson, who is interested in social justice and women’s issues, said Trump is “not thoughtful or willing to be intelligent.”
But Clinton’s campaign may not simply be able to count on young voters seeing her as the lesser of two evils in a race against Trump. Seven in 10 young voters — including majorities of blacks, whites, Asians and Hispanics — say they are unsatisfied with the race between Clinton and Trump and want the option of a third party candidate.
John Davilmar, a 20-year-old from West Palm Beach, Fla., is among those seeking an alternative. Davilmar backed Sanders and is increasingly considering casting his general election vote for Gary Johnson, the former New Mexico governor and Libertarian Party presidential nominee.
He’s says he’s still open to voting for Clinton, but can’t shake the idea that she’s part of the professional political class he distrusts.
“So far she’s like a lot of politicians,” Davilmar said. “But at least she’s better than what we would get from Trump.”