Jonathan Allen, 24, knows that he will cast a ballot in the presidential election, but he is a lot less certain about which box he’s going to check. After voting for Bernie Sanders in the primary, he’s torn between “keeping Trump out of the White House” by voting for Hillary Clinton or choosing Jill Stein, the Green Party nominee.
“I definitely identify more with Jill Stein,” said Allen, who works for a beer distributor in Durham, North Carolina. “So if I had to choose today, I would choose Stein for sure.”
That puts Allen at odds with what he describes as “an overwhelming majority, unfortunately” of his family members, who, like most black Americans, favor Clinton. Even some other millennials have chided him, saying that voting for a third-party candidate means effectively voting for Trump. But he sees a generational difference in how black Americans his age make decisions.
“Millennials, our phones are in our hands,” he said. “Technology, information is at reach. Based off of the information that I was finding with reference to Clinton’s past, I just didn’t see her as a candidate I could trust.” Allen liked Sanders’s brand of progressive politics more than Clinton’s and said he was “frightened” by the continuing revelations about her emails.
If “more information comes out,” he said, “it may be too late in the election to turn around, too late in the cycle for anyone to emerge and actually defeat Trump.”
The issues that matter the most to him, as he looks toward settling down and starting a family, include health care, the environment and a living wage. Regarding wages, he said: “That goes back to my culture, my ethnic group, because a lot of black men and women are working jobs that are paying $7.25 an hour here in North Carolina, and that’s nowhere near living wage. I’ve actually worked three jobs in college making $7.25 an hour and had enough money at the end of the month to pay my bills and really do not much more than that.”
Polling research shows that Allen is part of a generational divergence from the overwhelming black loyalty to the Democratic party, which is not shared by millennials. Compared to older black Americans, millennials are more likely to see Clinton as not trustworthy in general, or not progressive enough on issues like decreasing the cost and debt load of a college education or reducing racial bias in policing and incarceration. Others are broadly cynical about the possibility for political change.
And then there’s a generational shift in party loyalty across the board. Like 48 percent of millennials, Allen considers himself a political independent, compared to 35 percent of Baby Boomers.
An ABC News/Washington Post poll released last week found that among black Americans of all ages, Clinton is leading Trump 93 percent to 3. But an August survey of young voters by GenForward1 found that 60 percent of black Americans aged 18 to 30 supported Clinton — or about 30 percentage points less than African-Americans at large.2 Fourteen percent of black millennials said they would not vote, 5 percent said they would vote for the Green or Libertarian candidates, and 2 percent planned to vote for Trump.
By comparison, the survey showed that white Americans the same age were evenly divided between Clinton and Trump at 28 percent each, with 15 percent supporting the Libertarian Gary Johnson and 12 percent not planning to vote. Just over half of young Asian-Americans supported Clinton, and 49 percent of young Latinos did the same.
In September, The New York Times published a report by Democratic strategist Cornell Belcher indicating the party was on thin ice with some young black voters in the battleground states of Ohio and Florida. The report, which surveyed voters who had supported President Obama, quoted a black college-educated woman in Ohio, who told researchers: “What am I supposed to do if I don’t like him and I don’t trust her? Choose between being shot and being stabbed. No way!” A non-college-educated black man argued Clinton “was part of the whole problem that started sending blacks to jail,” referring to the decision by her husband, Bill Clinton, to sign the 1994 crime bill.
The report divided young voters into at least three categories: jaded pessimists, unlikely to vote; cynics who liked neither candidate; and pragmatists voting for Clinton to stop Trump. Those categories, they suggest, imply a fourth one: black millennials with a positive outlook who see Clinton as a means of improving black life. The report also showed a relative weakness in support for Clinton, with 86 percent of African-Americans in Ohio supporting her compared to the 96 percent who supported Obama in 2012.
Allen, who might fall into the “cynic” category of the report, at least from a two-party perspective, will play a more pivotal role than many voters around the country because he lives in the crucial battleground state of North Carolina. The turnout of black voters, young and old, could spell the difference in many swing states. As an ABC News article on the black vote pointed out, there are six swing states where black voters make up 12 to 22 percent of the population: Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia. In 2012, Ohio’s black population was 12 percent, but African-Americans made up 15 percent of the electorate, drawn by Obama’s candidacy to vote in larger proportions than other groups. Obama won five of these key states in both of his elections. In North Carolina, Obama won the state in 2008 and lost by two points to Romney in 2012.
Chris Prudhome, 31, the president of Vote America Now, a nonpartisan group focusing on getting millennials and people of color to vote, said the “enthusiasm gap” Clinton faces with black millennials — and the challenge of getting that demographic to the polls for any candidate — is significant.
“When you look at the numbers, the reality is that it’s just a different generation,” he said. “Forty percent of African-American millennials don’t choose Hillary. Young black voters overall don’t have an allegiance to a party.” Across racial lines, polling research shows, 48 percent of millennials consider themselves political independents, though more are Democratic-leaning than GOP-leaning.
Prudhome said issues key to black millennials include not only jobs and education, but also the fact that older millennials who earn a good living still can’t afford to buy a house in some parts of the county.
The majority of black millennial voters still prefer Clinton. One of them is Eboney Pearson, 30, who lives in Long Beach, California, and works on literacy and numeracy programs for at-risk youth. Compared to her peers in the area, “I was definitely in the minority” in supporting Clinton, Pearson said. “I didn’t even talk about it too much. It kind of felt controversial to be open about it with my age group, in particular, and specifically within the black community.”
California’s delegation to the Democratic National Convention had a large number of vocal Bernie Sanders supporters, and the generational divide in the state’s June 7 primary was pronounced. Clinton won by 38 points among voters aged 50-64, but lost by 60 points among voters under 30.
In the GenForward survey, black millennials reported voting for Sanders over Clinton 44 to 32 percent. The report also found that police brutality was the top issue for a plurality of black millennials, followed closely by racism, then education — all issues on which Clinton has issued policy positions. This reinforces a key finding of the Democratic strategy report: Many of the young black voters who are lukewarm about Clinton agreed with her policy proposals but either were not aware of them or, even more critically, were not aware of how often she had spoken out about issues like race and policing or had met with organizers like Mothers of the Movement, a group of black parents whose children were killed by police.
Pearson describes herself as elated to vote for Clinton, whose candidacy she sees as “another historical event,” akin to electing a first black president. Of Trump, the only positive thing she says is, “I’ve got to give him props for showmanship.”
The FiveThirtyEight Elections podcast is also airing a three-part companion series on demographics and the election.