The Weirdest Things 2016 Candidates Are Doing to Win the Youth Vote

January 28th 2016

Lucy Tiven

As the Iowa caucus approaches, several presidential primary campaigns are turning their focus towards college campuses.

The youth vote is both elusive and deeply valuable. Young voters were decisive in President Barack Obama's 2008 reelection, and the success of Democratic Primary Candidate Bernie Sanders is frequently attributed to the Vermont Senator's ability to captivate otherwise cynical, hopeless, or politically disinterested Millennials.

Sanders Speaking at an Iowa college

College-aged voters are typically idealistic and more cynical about politics than older voters, so efforts to engage them often involves appeals to pop culture and perceived interests of the young and hip.

Here's what three primary candidates are offering today's kids.

1. Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton For Profit Colleges

Unlike older voters, today's college students don't necessarily remember Bill Clinton or his presidency.

“I keep forgetting that he was president,” one 20-year-old Hillary Clinton campaign volunteer told Politico.

Bernie Sanders' anti-establishment campaign and idealistic message has resonated greatly with Millennials, but Clinton's arsenal is also a powerful, one, particularly among young women. Clinton's youth campaign efforts focus on her identity as a feminist candidate and her support of Planned Parenthood, while boasting endorsements from well-known pop cultural feminists.

Clinton's greatest asset with Millennial voters may be self-identified "voice of a generation" Lena Dunham. The "Girls" creator, star, and Taylor Swift BFF has enthusiastically trumpeted Clinton's feminism numerous times and has recently spoke to young Iowans about the former New York Senator's feminist platform and support of The Black Lives Matter movement.

Lena Dunham Clinton Jumper

"It’s as if I have some feminist version of beer goggles — let’s call it estrogen blindness — that causes me to go up to the nearest vagina and vote for them," Dunham said at an Iowa speaking engagement. Dunham has also donned a custom-embroidered Hilary jumper designed by Marc Jacobs and offers her audiences the opportunity to purchase Hilary tote bags and t-shirts reading "Not That Kind of Candidate," a play on the title of Dunham's popular book.

Dunham Clinton Shirt

Additionally, Clinton has enlisted pop star and former child actress Demi Lovato to appear with her at speaking engagements in Iowa college towns.

2. Martin O'Malley

While Democratic Primary Contender Martin O'Malley may not be able to match Clinton's star power or Sanders' momentum, he is attempting to woo collegiate voters with something that is perhaps even more universally adored by the young — pizza.

The candidate recently threw an impromptu pizza party at an eastern Iowa campaign stop, offering the crowd slices while soliciting campaign volunteers. O'Malley has also recruited volunteers at Cornell's campus for caucus day "morning shenanigans" - a fun term his campaign has invented for volunteering to plaster dorms and cars with leaflets.

O Malley

The former Governor of Maryland has focused on small college towns in particular and emphasized issues such as education and climate change, which speak to Millennial values.

3. Donald Trump

Donald Trump's campaign resonates most with angry young voters and fans of "The Apprentice," but the Trump has also stated that he plans to eradicate student loans and provide jobs for college graduates (much like the jobs offered to contestants on "The Apprentice").

Young Trump supporters identify with his personality, aggression, and contempt for "PC culture." Trump may not need the celebrity endorsements that candidates like Clinton have used to lure Milennials because Trump is himself a celebrity.

"Millennials are attracted to personality over substance," GOP strategist Ford O'Connell said in October. "And there is no question that the Donald is the strongest personality on either side of the aisle."

A recent Vine shows several 18-year-old fraternity brothers endorsing Trump:


“In school we learned about how America was great, you know, a while ago or whatever," one says, "And I kinda want to live through that as an 18-year-old.”


4. Rand Paul

Libertarian Rand Paul has the most youth appeal of the GOP primary candidates, and has used an anti-establishment campaign message and issues like internet privacy to attract 1,000 new caucus commitments, according to Paul's campaign.

The Kentucky Senator held tailgating events at fall football games at Iowa State and University of Iowa as well as three "Pints for Liberty" events and bars near large Iowa college towns.

Rand Paul Tailgate

“It’s a time for me to hangout and socialize with them as kind of a thank-you from me to them for all the hard work they’re doing,” Paul told the Des Moines Register. He has also said that informal events help reach young voters who might be repelled by a “traditional Republican setting.”

One such supporter has created a line of "Keg Stands For Rand" tee shirts, presumably aimed at young voters eager to drink up Paul's liberty brews and libertarian platform.

Keg Stands for Rand shirt

It remains unclear how many of the college students sporting campaign swag will actually make it out to vote, but turnout at Sanders' rallies and speaking engagements and the crucial role of the youth vote in 2008 suggest that Millennial voters may drastically shape the upcoming caucus.

Bernie is Bae