SARASOTA — Jonathon Engstrom should be an easy get for Hillary Clinton.
A former supporter of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Engstrom’s left-of-center outlook puts him in line with many of Clinton’s policy positions. He thinks little of Clinton’s presidential campaign rival, Donald Trump, saying Trump would “play the system” to his advantage.
But the third-year student at New College of Florida plans to vote for Libertarian Gary Johnson on Nov. 8, despite knowing little about Johnson other than that he supports getting lobbying out of politics. What Engstrom does know is that Johnson isn’t one of the two major-party candidates.
“A lot of the reasons I don’t support Clinton are the same reasons I don’t support Donald Trump,” the 21-year-old from Tampa said during a break between classes on the picturesque campus overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. “I view them as both corporate candidates (so) I honestly can’t bring myself to vote for either of them. It feels like I’m spitting in the face of the democratic process if I do.”
Engstrom illustrates the problem Clinton has with many Millennials. Young voters have been slow to pivot from Sanders to Clinton, even though the Vermont independent has endorsed Clinton and has pleaded with his backers to support her.
That reluctance could cost Clinton the election in Florida, the nation’s most important swing state and one where presidential elections are usually closely contested.
Leaked emails detailing a sometimes cozy relationship between the State Department under Clinton and the candidate’s charitable organization, the Clinton Foundation, have stoked suspicion among young voters. So have Clinton’s well-compensated speeches to Wall Street.
Obama captured at least 60% support among voters under 30 in 2008 and 2012, according to the Pew Research Center. But a national poll released last month by Quinnipiac University shows Clinton getting only 31% of likely voters under 35 – barely ahead of Johnson (29%), Trump (26%) and Green Party Nominee Jill Stein (15%).
More recent polls show Clinton making gains among Millennials but still falling short of Obama’s levels. In Florida, where the president won in 2012 by fewer than 75,000 votes, Millennial support could make or break Clinton.
Her poor showing among white men and older voters means she has to over-perform in other areas, including among minorities, suburban women and young voters, analysts say.
Even among Millennials (those 18-34) there’s a divide between young professionals who are more open to Clinton and college students who were inspired by Sanders.
Savannah Diaz, 20, a Sanders supporter at the University of South Florida in Tampa, plans to vote for Stein because she doesn’t trust what Clinton represents.
“I think she’s very much the pinnacle of the party system and all that’s wrong in the country,” Diaz said. “I think she epitomizes the scandal and the problems that we’ve built for ourselves. As long as we elect someone like her, it’s going to continue to be a problem.”
In a nod to the importance of Sunshine State Millennials in this election, Clinton had a rally at USF last month where she spoke about raising the minimum wage and relieving students of college debt.
“Vote this year like your future depends on it, because it does,” she told the audience, an acknowledgment that she not only needs Millennials’ support, she needs them to turn out at the polls.
Young voters tend to vote far less often than older ones. In 2012, nearly 70% of Americans 65 and over cast a ballot, compared with 38% of those between 18 and 24, census figures show.
Moneer Kheireddine, 20, a political science major at USF, briefly considered supporting Sanders but now leans —not enthusiastically — toward Clinton. A potentially decisive factor for him is that Clinton lies less often than Trump.
A Lebanese-American and a Muslim, Kheireddine said Clinton struggles to attract Millennial support because she represents the status quo.
“I think that’s a big thing for the college generation,” he said. “A lot of people in our age group (connect with a candidate) who’s different — an outlier, not the norm.”
Miguel Mendez, 21, a digital media major at the University of Central Florida, is holding his nose this election.
“At this point, they’ve left their stain on my mind and I don’t know anything they could tell me — truth or lie — that would sway me,” he said. “But I’m trying to keep an open mind. This is the next four years we’re talking about.”