"Hillary Clinton has officially been to Temple more times than my parents," tweeted a junior at the Philadelphia university on Monday morning, hours before the Democratic nominee was set to give a speech before a room full of students on campus. We don't have the data to fact-check said parent-shaming, but it's true that the Democratic presidential nominee and her surrogates have been visiting Philadelphia quite a bit — part of a larger effort to convince young voters that it is possible to play Spot the Difference with the Republican and Democratic Parties.
"Even if you’re totally opposed to Donald Trump, you may still have some questions about me," Clinton said in her speech at Mitten Hall later that day. "I get that. And I want to do my best to answer those questions." The stage looked vaguely Elizabethan, a tiered cake of stone and wood. In two balconies overlooking the speaking area, a handful of students peered down like a gaggle of Juliets as Clinton gazed up to woo them, begging them to forget her last name and past so they could live happily ever after in a Democratic majority.
She talked about her plan to make college debt-free, her belief in the existence of climate change, and her desire for equal pay and paid leave. "There’s no doubt in my mind that young people have more at stake in this election than any other age group," she said at the end of her speech. "And when you turn out and vote this fall, we will be sending a message much larger than even the outcome."
They might need more convincing: A recent Quinnipiac University poll had Clinton getting only 31 percent of the coveted 18–34 vote. Young people are more reliable Clinton voters than other generations — especially baby boomers — but they still aren't leaning toward the Democratic Party as much as usual, instead eager to explore their options outside the two-party system. Forty-four percent said they plan on voting for Libertarian Gary Johnson or Green Party candidate Jill Stein, neither of whom will be president next year. Compare Clinton’s numbers to those of President Obama, who got about 60 percent of the under-30 vote in 2012.
Convincing young people to vote is also probably much easier than persuading old voters to stop supporting Trump, which is why Clinton was on campus trying to persuade students she had something to offer them besides, "I'm not Trump." The event was small by design — later in the day, hundreds more people showed up to break the Guinness world record for most PB&J sandwiches made in one hour elsewhere on campus — and it didn't seem like many of the voters whom Clinton was trying to win over were in the room. Instead, there was an audience full of people already supporting Clinton. They seemed pleased to get an intimate performance of the millennial talking points she hopes will win over the voters who had their political passions stoked in 2008 or 2012 and have yet to learn that every election isn't a phantasmagorical orgy of charisma and romantic visions of passed bills.
Clinton first stopped by Temple shortly after the Democratic convention in July, on the verge of getting a nice post-nomination poll bump. There were still 100 days left until the election, and while she had just spent a week hearing the most diehard Bernie supporters drown out some of her convention speakers, they would surely come around before November, right?
Now the polls are tightening and many of those young voters still aren't planning on voting for Clinton. There are only about six weeks left in the race. She ran through the same exact biographical details she debuted at the convention — her time at the Children's Defense Fund, her memories of being angry at politicians during Vietnam, and anything that didn't pertain to emails. This time, however, her words were tailored for a far more specific audience, one so singular that it could double as a Netflix movie genre: Earnest Millennial Indies With a Strong Bernie Lead.
Sanders himself is part of this millennial scavenger hunt — the latest attempt leaders have made to try to understand the supposedly elusive millennial, even though the generation has been very up front about what it wants from politicians. He and fellow Senator Elizabeth Warren just came off a speaking tour of Ohio colleges. Clinton's words on Monday seemed like they were baked from a recipe borrowed from Sanders and Warren's best-selling oratorical cookbooks, folding in a populist laundry list of policy here, sprinkling a mention of income inequality or climate change there, and broiling it in frequent asides about how young voters stand to gain or lose the most during this election cycle.
She did not borrow any insults from Warren's growing burn book, however; most mentions of Trump were left implicit. If anyone in the audience had any doubts that Clinton was talking about her opponent, though, they would have dissipated after a glance at the sign-language translators, who, whenever they had to sign a reference to the Republican nominee, looked like they were smelling a used diaper that had brined in a pickle jar for a week before being set to dry on a subway platform in August.
Some of the young voters watching the speech thought the discussion of positive policy changes was a refreshing break from the Trump-heavy fare she has relied on lately. They were less convinced that the change in tone and focus would win over their Hillary-hating peers — or that there was anything the Democrats could say to change their minds.
Freshman Sarah Hickler told MTV News she knew a lot of friends "who would love to vote for Bernie" and are instead choosing to sit out the election. Does she think there is anything Clinton could say to win their vote? "I don't." Daniel, a 24-year-old who's spent the past few years abroad, voted for Sanders in the primary but is planning to vote for Clinton in November. He also couldn't think of anything Clinton could say to win over his friends who plan to abstain from the ballot box. Rohan Saganti, 18, said Clinton could maybe talk about her emails more, since she "doesn't seem that honest."
Clinton is probably in a better spot in Pennsylvania than in other swing states; she won the Pennsylvania primary in 2008 and 2016, and has a big lead there right now. Trump has done little to organize in Pennsylvania, as in most states. Many of the people streaming out of the event had voted for Sanders in the primary, but had since shifted their support to Clinton without a fuss.
On a national scale, however, it is probably too late, or has always been impossible, to make unconvinced young voters fall in love with Clinton, which is why the candidate and her surrogates seem determined to cast her as a personified pile of policies — or at least shame everyone thinking of sitting out the election into their nearest polling place. Sanders said this weekend in Ohio, “So when you go out and talk to your friends and they say, ‘Oh God I’m not going to vote; it’s a waste of time; everybody is terrible,’ ask them how much they’re going to leave school in debt with. Ask them about that.” Michelle Obama said something similar recently in Virginia: “Let’s be clear, elections aren’t just about who votes, but who doesn’t vote. And that is especially true for young people like all of you. Without those votes, Barack would have lost those states and he definitely would have lost that election. Period, end of story.”
Pennsylvania, a swing state that has been friendly to Democrats the past few election cycles, is predictably stuffed with liberal-leaning organizers trying to register as many young people as possible. There are lots of new votes to pick up, too — only 38 percent of millennials voted in 2012; that and the generation now makes up the largest voting bloc in the entire country. Penn Leads the Vote, a nonpartisan voter registration group at the University of Pennsylvania, is far behind the numbers it was tallying in 2012, students Zakya Hall and Daniel Lilling said, partly because the Clinton campaign and groups like NextGen Climate are being so aggressive this year. The registration deadline in Pennsylvania is less than a month away, on October 11.
Some of those new voters will surely vote for Gary Johnson or Jill Stein, who is visiting Philadelphia later this week. When Warren was speaking in Cleveland this weekend, a few protesters chanted, "Jill not Hill." If Democrats remain unable to tempt young voters away from third parties, however, they still have one possible surrogate left to persuade millennials to give them another try. Al Gore, chief spokesperson of the Victims of Protest Voters Worldwide, recently told the New York Times, "I can assure you from personal experience that every vote counts."