Millennials consider third party candidates, not voting

Young Metro Detroit voters are disappointed in Trump, Clinton and contemplate skipping the election

Stephanie Steinberg
The Detroit News

Less than three weeks from the election, and William Thomas, a 29-year-old born and raised in Detroit, already decided he’s not going to vote.

His opinion of the presidential election comes down to three words: “It’s a circus.”

“A president should be what people hope to be,” says the Bedrock mechanical engineer in between bites of food during his lunch break. “No one wants to be Donald or Hillary. Millennials are looking for someone we can relate to. I think that’s why we took so well to Barack (Obama) because he had this young kind of presence about him.”

The Wayne State University College Democrats sponsored a viewing party for the final presidential debate Oct. 19 in the WSU Student Center Ballroom.

At Wayne State University, sophomore Juliet Gustafson describes the election in one word: “comical.”

“But then when you realize the fate of your country is at stake, it’s not funny at all,” she says.

Who millennials — anyone age 18 to 35 — vote for in this election remains to be seen. U.S. Census Bureau data released in April shows that the number of millennials in the U.S. (75.4 million) surpassed baby boomers (74.9 million) ages 51 to 69. The Pew Research Center, based in Washington, D.C., defines millennials as people born between 1981 and 1997.

If the younger generation comes out to the polls Nov. 8, it could have a significant impact on the election.

But “if” is the key word.

After speaking with Oakland University College Republicans on Friday, Rep. Mike Bishop, R–Rochester, says interest among young voters this election is a lot “lower” than he’s seen in the past. Take OU’s campus, where there isn’t a campaign poster in sight.

“I don’t see the enthusiasm that I once did,” Bishop says. “You walk onto a college campus like this, you usually see signs, you see people campaigning and demonstrating. You don’t see that.”

OU student Michael Banerian, 22, has visited several college campuses for his role as Michigan Republican Party youth vice chair. While he’s noticed an uptick in third party support, he says those who aren’t firmly for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton are simply not voting.

“That’s the detrimental thing in this election. It’s not that these kids are going to go out for a third party and split up that vote — they’re just not going to vote. I would say you have more nonvoters, generally speaking, and that’s sad,” he pauses. “Very sad.”

Part of the problem, he adds, is that the candidates have failed to address issues important to his generation.

“Young voters probably wanted them to talk about how we can get college tuition prices down, how they can have jobs when they graduate with a degree,” he says. “I don’t think we’ve really gotten any discussion on any of the major issues.”

Perhaps that’s why a loud cheer erupted from 90-plus students viewing the final presidential debate at the WSU College Democrats watch party, when Clinton pronounced she wants to make college “debt free.”

Wayne State University students watch the final presidential debate on Oct. 19 in the Student Center Ballroom.

“Hillary’s stance on debt-free college has really helped,” says Zach Kilgore, 22, WSU College Democrats president. “That’s brought a lot of people to our side.”

He adds that many Bernie Sanders supporters listened when the senator endorsed Clinton and have since joined their ranks. Though, some have done so with hesitancy.

Gustafson, 20, of Ann Arbor says she and her friends supported Sanders and considered switching to a third party when he lost the presidency bid. Though “bummed,” she stuck with the Democrats.

“I know it’s not a waste of a vote, but it’s just really unlikely that so many people are going to vote third party and that it will work,” Gustafson says. “It’s sad that out of everyone, we’ve picked these two candidates, but I do support Hillary because I do think that she’s better for us than Trump.”

Still feeling the Bern

Sophomore Mitchell Bonga, 19, was a Democrat until August, when he founded the WSU College Greens. The tipping point came after the Democratic Party’s “unfair treatment” of Sanders, he says.

“The way the DNC colluded to prevent his rise in the party, it really made me disillusioned with the American political system,” he says.

About 10 students joined his group, and Bonga says more on campus support the Green Party’s positions, but most are “fearful of a Trump presidency” and don’t want to take votes away from the Democrats.

According to an Oct. 10-11 Detroit News/WDIV poll of 600 likely Michigan voters, 18 to 29-year-olds favored third party candidates, Libertarian Gary Johnson and Green Party nominee Jill Stein, more than older voters. In the survey, that age group supported Johnson 17.6 percent and Stein 9.8 percent. In comparison, older voters supported Johnson 10.3 percent and Stein 4.6 percent. Millennials also favored Clinton over Trump 36.3 percent to 24.5 percent. The overall poll had a margin of error plus-minus 4 percentage points.

While millennials might not be canvassing with the same gusto they exuded for Obama in 2008 and 2012, Stephen Neuman, senior adviser to the Michigan Democratic Party’s coordinated campaign, says there’s “tremendous enthusiasm” for Clinton.

“We’ve really seen young voters turned off by the terrible things that Mr. Trump has said, and we think that they’re realizing that they really do have the power to shape the outcome here,” he says.

To drum up voter participation, Clinton’s Michigan campaign organized a voter registration contest between Michigan State University and the University of Michigan. Though Neuman won’t share specific results, he says the initiative registered thousands of voters, and the Wolverines prevailed.

“With a really big, strong push at the end, the team from U of M edged (the Spartans) out,” he says.

UM junior Sara Lebow, 20, chair of Voice Your Vote — a nonpartisan commission of the Central Student Government tasked with increasing voter turnout — says the Clinton campaign has had the “biggest presence” on the liberal campus, and she’s seen an increasing number of Clinton T-shirts and window signs. But students still feel the Bern.

“Everyone still has Bernie stickers on their laptops,” she says “.... They still stand with his sentiment, and that’s why they haven’t taken them off.”

Undecided and nonvoters

“I have 20 days to make a decision, says Quicken Loans manager Lindsay Gorman, 28, of Royal Oak. “My mom’s voting for Trump. My dad’s voting for Hillary. I have no idea.”

Her main gripe about the candidates? They don’t reveal, “This is how I’m going to do what I say I’m going to do,” she says.

While Thomas isn’t planning to vote, his older brother Vincent Thomas, 34, will hit the polls — though he’s also undecided.

“I don’t think either one of them are the right person for the job,” he says, having a post-work drink at Central Kitchen + Bar. However, he doesn’t think he’ll vote for Trump because he wants a “more poised and professional leader.”

“Every time you see him on the news, he opens his mouth, and he says something outlandish or out of the norm, and it’s like, ‘Who is this guy?’ He’s not doing ‘The Apprentice,’ ” Thomas says.

Lena Epstein, Michigan co-chair for the Donald Trump for president campaign, says she’ll “never try to apologize for the inappropriate things Mr. Trump has said,” and acknowledges his comments have been “hurtful,” but emphasizes the negative rhetoric has spurted out of both sides.

“Clinton has said an onslaught of highly inappropriate, rude and disparaging things, as well,” says Epstein, 35. “It just puts such a terrible taste in the mouths of so many millennials and older adults, to think that we are talking about these issues rather than the critical issues that America wants to be discussing: the economy, national security, the tax rate.”

Oakland University College Republicans officers are, from left, Chairman Branden Foote, 20, of Portland; co-chair Taylor Martino, 19, of Utica; Michael Banerian, 22, of Bloomfield Township; and Youth Vice Chair of the Michigan Republican Party and OU College Republicans co-chair Mary Drabik, (seated) 19, of Chesterfield Township.

OU College Republicans co-chair Taylor Martino, 19, says the “election has come down to who do you dislike more, (or) who is more corrupt that you would vote for the opposite candidate.”

Agreeing, OU College Republicans vice president Mary Drabik, 19, adds she tries to remind millennials, especially those considering not voting, that there are other candidates on the ballot.

“People don’t realize this is more than a presidential election,” she says. “We’re voting for state legislators, county commissioners, Michigan Supreme Court judges.”

Sterling Heights resident Jacqueline Hencsie, 30, a volunteer with the Michigan Democratic coordinated committee, has heard similar ambivalence among peers who insist they “can’t vote” for Trump or Clinton.

“I just want to pull them aside and say, ‘Look, it doesn’t matter if you don’t want to vote for either of them,’ ” she says. “ ‘Find something on the ballot that you can vote for because the presidential ticket is important, but so is everyone else on those tickets.’ ”

As Bishop says, “the worst that can happen is that (millennials) don’t participate” in the election.

His plea to young voters: “Don’t disappear.”

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Twitter: @Steph_Steimberg