Is Millennials' Support for Jill Stein and Gary Johnson About Privilege?

On the afternoon of the opening session of this summer’s Democratic Convention, I was walking into the convention arena while hundreds of young demonstrators, many carrying signs backing Green Party candidate Jill Stein, shouted and occasionally hurled invectives at those entering the hall—an odd tactic, I thought, since more than 40 percent of the delegates entering the building were Bernie Sanders’. The friend I was walking in with—a Latino legislator from California—cast a cold eye on the demonstrators and noted, “They’re all white.”


Two months have passed since that convention, and Hillary Clinton is still having trouble winning the allegiance of the young, a disproportionate number of whom are backing either Stein or Libertarian Gary Johnson. But my friend’s take on the demonstrators is still an apt description of the millennials holding out for the third-party candidates: They’re all white.

Well, not all—but damn near. A late-September survey of more than 1,750 millennials, conducted by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs and Research for the Black Youth Project at the University of Chicago, found that most national polls overstate young people’s support for Johnson and Stein because they under-sampled black, Latino, and Asian American millennials. The AP-NORC poll found just 11 percent of millennials backed Johnson, and just 4 percent Stein. Johnson had the backing of 15 percent of whites aged 18 to 30—but just 8 percent of Latinos, 6 percent of Asian Americans, and 4 percent of African Americans. Stein was getting 4 percent of white millennials, but just 2 percent of their black counterparts.Similarly, a second late-September survey by Latino Decisions found that 77 percent of Latino millennials were backing Clinton—exceeding by a full 10 points the 67 percent of older Latinos who said they’d vote for her.

This shouldn’t be taken to mean that millennial minorities are crazy about Clinton. In many states outside the South, more of them voted for Sanders than for Clinton in the Democratic primaries. “Nobody’s excited about the election,” says Nelini Stamp, an organizer for the Working Families Party, and a veteran of Occupy Wall Street and anti-police-abuse organizations, whose work largely focuses on minority youth. “The people we work with want to get this election over, but they’re also saying we need to defeat Trump and fascism,” she told me earlier this week. Clinton’s reference two decades ago to “superpredators” angers young black activists, says Stamp, but most “still understand the absolute importance of defeating Trump.”

“I find that in working with Sanders supporters, it’s the younger white voters who are still really upset,” she says.

The gap that’s opened between white and minority millennials should come as no surprise; it tracks their different life experiences. The AP-NORC survey found that 48 percent of young blacks had experienced racial discrimination in looking for a job, compared to 30 percent of Latinos and just 10 percent of whites. It found that 57 percent of both black and Latino millennials were concerned about someone in their household being laid off, while just 41 percent of young whites voiced that fear.

But surely, the gap also reflects the greater and more direct danger that a Trump presidency poses to minority communities, immigrants, and Muslims than it does to whites. The racial and religious hatred that Trump has brought into the open in the course of his campaign has already made the nation a more dangerous place for minorities; the witches’ brew that a Trump presidency would uncork would be more toxic still.

Clinton’s challenge among minority millennials is less one of winning them over from Johnson and Stein, and more one of generating a sufficient sense of urgency to get them to the polls in greater numbers. Some small, irreducible number of white millennials may go for Johnson as the none-of-the-above candidate, though the perpetually flummoxed Johnson seems determined to drive most sentient supporters away. (We pause to note that it does not speak well of contemporary American conservatism that both the Libertarians and the Republicans have nominated such doofuses as their candidates.) But a hard core of young, white Bernie-or-Busters may yet believe that voting for Stein, or even Johnson, is an expression of their disdain for the system.

It may be, at that. But it’s more clearly an expression of something quite different: their white skin privilege. 

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