Among young voters, Obama's popularity may not transfer
DURHAM, North Carolina (AP) — Paulos Muruts is set to cast his first presidential ballot for Hillary Clinton — if he makes it to the ballot box.
"I might need someone on Election Day to actually convince me to go out and vote," says the 19-year-old Duke University student, arguing that the Democratic nominee "has the experience" and "exudes the right temperament" but "doesn't inspire excitement."
Yet mention Clinton's would-be predecessor and Muruts' eyes light up.
"Love President Obama," he says. "He's got swagger."
Muruts represents a frustrating political reality for Clinton in her matchup against Republican nominee Donald Trump: She'll fare far better on Election Day among voters age 18-30, but she could fall short of Obama's totals and turnouts that drove his national victories in 2008 and 2012, a new GenForward survey suggests.
The survey math tells the story. The GenForward survey, conducted Sept. 1-14 by the Black Youth Project at the University of Chicago with the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, found that 54 percent of voters age 18 to 30 held a negative view of Clinton. Just 41 percent said they see her favorably. At the same time, 60 percent of respondents said they approve of Obama's job performance, while 26 percent do not. That's a difference of 19 percentage points between the president's job approval and Clinton's favorability.
Any drop off in the "Obama coalition," whether because of defections to minor candidates or eligible voters opting to stay home, could affect the outcomes in battleground states like North Carolina, Colorado, Virginia, Ohio and Florida — all of which have significant populations of college students and young professionals.
Perhaps most vexing for Clinton is that the GenForward survey depicts a young generation less critical of the current Oval Office occupant than older voters. Obama argues plainly on the campaign trail that "my legacy is on the ballot." But those sentiments just aren't so easily transferred to his preferred successor, even as young voters resoundingly reject Trump and, as a whole, declare Clinton more honest and more qualified than the GOP nominee.
A fifth of the young voters surveyed said they will vote for Libertarian Gary Johnson, the Green Party's Jill Stein or someone else. Duke graduate student Jennifer Lenart, 23, is among them, citing ongoing wrangles, including Clinton's use of a private email server while she ran the State Department.
The server should not be disqualifying, Lenart says. But she argues that the negative attention, fair or not, would hamper a Clinton presidency.
"I do like her," Lenart says, but adds, "I'd rather start from a clean slate so we don't have to deal with this anymore."
Clinton's favorability deficit is driven by whites: Nearly two-thirds of them professed a negative view of Clinton, the survey shows. But Obama outpaces Clinton across all racial and ethnic lines. Whites: 49 percent job approval for Obama, 33 favorability for Clinton. Blacks: 78 percent for Obama, 60 for Clinton. Latinos: Obama 70, Clinton 52. Asian-Americans: Obama 73, Clinton 50.
To be sure, Clinton holds commanding advantages over Trump among young African-Americans, Hispanics and Asian-Americans. But the poll leaves doubts about whether she can turn them out to vote. More than half of young whites say they will definitely vote, but less than 4 in 10 nonwhites say the same.
The challenge for Clinton is evident even among young Republicans who say they plan to back Trump.
Thayer Atkins, a Republican who said he will reluctantly vote for his party's nominee, doesn't go so far as to offer "approval" for Obama's job performance. But he makes clear his complaints are only related to policy.
"I was one of those people who thought we were doomed if he won," says the 20-year-old from Dallas. "But I don't think we are on the brink. We just aren't where we should be."
Another Trump voter, Ben Ezroni, said the 55-year-old president offers a connection with young voters that neither Clinton, 68, or Trump, 70, can match. "He seems like a cool guy," said Ezroni, 19, of New York. "Regardless of my political affiliation, I'd love to hang out with him."
That leaves Clinton and her backers to strike the right balance between using Obama as a forceful advocate in the campaign's home stretch, while she works herself to convince younger voters to view the Nov. 8 ballot as a clear, even if uninspiring, choice between her policies and Trump's.
Vikram Seethepalli, a 19-year-old Duke student from Vermont, uses that latter framing when trying to convince friends to back Clinton.
Seethepalli supported his home state senator, Bernie Sanders, in the Democratic primary. He says he remains concerned about Clinton's reliance on financial support from corporations and wealthy individuals. But, he says, "I put it in the simplest terms. If Trump is elected and you voted for Gary Johnson, will you regret your decision if thousands of people are being deported and you didn't vote for the only other viable candidate?"
The poll of 1,851 adults age 18-30 was conducted Sept. 1-14 using a sample drawn from the probability-based GenForward panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. young adult population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.8 percentage points.
The survey was paid for by the Black Youth Project at the University of Chicago, using grants from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Ford Foundation.
Respondents were first selected randomly using address-based sampling methods, and later interviewed online or by phone.