To Win Over Young Voters, Clinton Should Think Small
No matter what happens during Sunday night’s Presidential debate, the next time we see Hillary Clinton will be on stage at a big, celebratory campaign rally in a battleground state. After that rally she’ll fly to another battleground state to speak at a another big campaign rally. Then another. Then another. Depending on the state, Clinton might be joined by a well-known elected official like NJ Senator Cory Booker, a political luminary like Al Gore, a celebrity/musician like Katy Perry.
This is what happens down the stretch in a presidential campaign. During the final weeks leading up to Election Day, candidates, and their surrogates, bounce from state to state, headlining big rallies, doing their part to build excitement and momentum. The goal is to make sure existing supporters are fired up and ready to head to the polls, and that some of that excitement rubs off on on other people who might still be on the fence.
Get-out-the-vote is ultimately the most important thing to a campaign. But it also assumes that the campaign has enough support to carry the day. In this election, there isn’t a confirmed path to victory — for either Clinton or Trump. And in the case of Hillary Clinton, there are still a lot of people who are undecided and/or un-engaged — especially young voters — that she needs to get engaged if she wants to be sure to win.
To be clear, Secretary Clinton doesn’t need to convince young voters that she is the most qualified (or least terrifying) candidate. Instead, her challenge is to close the so-called “enthusiasm gap.” She needs young voters to be registered to vote and ready to cast their ballots on November 8th. Big rallies with bold face names will not be enough. Undecided and un-engaged young voters have been paying attention to this campaign for months and they are still on the sidelines. A different approach is needed.
Instead, of delivering another high-energy version of her stump speech, Secretary Clinton would be better served spending her time meeting with undecided and un-engaged young voters in small groups, having conversations about issues that they care most about. Small events make it possible for Secretary Clinton to establish a real connection with voters that big events do not. She can respond to specific concerns instead of making sweeping promises. She can ask lots of questions, invite people to vent their frustrations, and take lots of notes. She can address what young voters ask of her directly, instead of relying on polls to figure out what should resonate best. Instead of highlighting her positions, promoting her policies or attacking her opponent, she can listen more than she talks.
Secretary Clinton is very comfortable in this setting — more comfortable than she will ever be giving a speech at a campaign rally in front of a large, raucous crowd. She has done hundreds of small events. As recently as a few months ago, her campaign organized a series of these events to win over suburban women voters. But she has not done these small, intimate events with young voters — and time is starting to run short.
Here are a few options Secretary Clinton and her campaign team might consider:
- Go Back To School. Secretary Clinton should sit down with a group of students in the dining hall over breakfast, visit a sorority house for a late night chat, set up a table in the student union, or walk through the library at peak study time. Don’t build a stage, vet the students or screen the conversations… just encourage students come over and have a conversation and see how things unfold.
- Wall-to-Wall OTRs. The most genuine and compelling political campaign events are OTRs — when the candidate stops at an ice cream shop or drops by of a pick up basketball game totally unprompted. Usually these stops are squeezed between more highly produced campaign events. But Secretary Clinton could make an entire day out of these unplanned adventures. Walk down the street and stop to talk with people, get in line to order something to eat from a local eatery and strike up a conversation, ride the bus home during the evening commute.
- Ride-Alongs. Out of the blue, invite a couple of undecided or un-engaged young voters to ride along with Secretary Clinton in her motorcade. While flying from one campaign stop to the next, Secretary Clinton should fire up Facebook live and take questions from whoever happens to be online.
The idea is simple: Secretary Clinton needs to spend as much time connecting with undecided and un-engaged young voters as possible. Answer every question that is posed. Take on any subject that is raised. She is the only one who can make the case for her candidacy. Young voters need to hear that case being made from her. No filters. No fancy production. No fear.
The media can still follow her around. Her campaign team can still capture everything and re-package it in a hundred different ways. Her surrogates and multi-million dollar targeted ad campaigns can still blanket the country and make sure all the other key voting blocs are feeling appreciated. But only Secretary Clinton can win over young voters, and she can only do by getting hands on and meeting with young voters on their terms.
I dare you Clinton/Kaine campaign… toss out the campaign plan you have in place and start thinking small.