Hillary Clinton: Exploring the generation gap among women voters

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graph oneBy Taylor Reid
MI First Election

An historical milestone eludes the United States. The inauguration of a female president is still a thing seen only in television and books. If presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton wins, she’ll turn fiction into reality. Rather than celebrating Clinton’s historic candidacy, however, women find themselves divided in opinion by this feminist icon. While women over 30 generally support Clinton, younger women have rallied behind the 74-year-old Bernie Sanders instead.

Felicia Sullivan is a professor at Tufts University, a senior researcher at CIRCLE. This organization researches the voting activity of young adults. According to Sullivan, 57 percent of women aged 17-29 support Sanders, while only 41 percent support Clinton.

When looking at the voting patterns of women aged 30-59, however, the story is reversed. CIRCLE has found that 68 percent of this age group supports Clinton, while 30 percent support Sanders. Over age 60, 75 percent of women support Clinton.

Bridget Silha, the Michigan representative for Students for Sanders, said women voters are too focused on there being a woman president, rather than who’s the right candidate.

“A gap exists between women voters simply because of the times that we grew up in. Talking with older women, it is more common to notice their unequal status when they’re talking with a man. With younger women, you just walk into a room and speak your mind no matter who is a man or who is a woman,” said Silha, 19. “So, I believe that older women revere Clinton primarily because they see a woman in power and believe that they can combat this unequal status. Whereas younger women don’t see the gender war as clearly.”

This is a mindset that Rita Kiki Edozie, an international relations professor at Michigan State University, finds concerning. Edozie said that inequality between the sexes is still rampant.

“My daughter is all about ‘Feel the Bern,’ so I see the generational divide in my own house,” Edozie, 53, said. “College students are very one-issue voters. Clinton has the programs to engage society, but she’s more realistic. Older people understand where she’s coming from. Younger people have more hope.”

But why is this hope being trusted with Sanders, and not Clinton? This is a question that CIRCLE tries to understand.

“In general, we’ve found that young people find Sanders to be much more honest and trustworthy,” Sullivan said. “They think he cares about them more. They do think Clinton is qualified, but that’s not as important to them.”

Claire Plagens, who studies social work at MSU, falls into this category.

“I don’t really think negatively on Clinton’s views for women’s issues, but I trust Sanders way more in general,” said Plagens, 19. “He’s been considerably more consistent in his stances over time and she hasn’t. I don’t trust a word she says.”

Edozie has been a Clinton fan since the presidential hopeful was the first lady. It is this long admiration for Clinton that led Edozie to trust her.

“I supported her back when she was against Obama,” Edozie said. “I admired that she was a first lady who could step away from traditional roles. She’s been a champion of pay equality. She understands that reproductive rights are under threat, and she wants to move forward and expand women’s rights. Bernie acts like it’s not his problem.”

Amelia Hallman breaks away from the mold cast by her peers by supporting Clinton. Hallman, 19, is the membership director for MSU Spartans for Hillary.

“I get a lot of people questioning why I like her, and I often have to defend my support for her. People are generally surprised, because it’s supposedly out of character for millennials to support her,” said Hallman.

Hallman can often be spotted on campus wearing shirts bearing Clinton’s face, a fashion choice she says receives negative comments occasionally.

“People my age like Bernie, because he’s offering things like free college. Hillary is offering plans that have a greater chance of being realized, but affordable college doesn’t sound as appealing as free college,” said Hallman.

However, Silha and Plagens both cite reasons beyond free college for why they support Sanders, such as his stance on health care. Silha is unconvinced that Clinton can accomplish real change in the White House.

“Clinton, for me, seems like every other candidate. She doesn’t bring forth any original ideas for her possible presidency,” said Silha. “And she doesn’t seem like the type of person that could present and execute progressive ideas in a static Congress.”

Michigan Rep. Kristy Pagan, D-Canton, worked with Debbie Stabenow when Hillary Clinton was a senator. Contrary to Silha’s beliefs, Pagan, 33, remembers Clinton’s effectiveness.

“From what I saw, she held her own in a room full of men. She got through to people, and got things passed,” Pagan said. “She inspires me and other women by her example. She’s the first in a lot that she does, and she has our backs.”

Although she is a Hillary supporter, Pagan said she’s excited by the political interest Sanders has sparked in young people. Pagan found comments earlier this year by feminist icons Gloria Steinem and Madeleine Albright to be unfair.

Steinem said that young women supported Sanders, because that’s “where the boys are,” while Albright said there was a “special place in Hell” for women who don’t support other women.

“Those comments made me absolutely enraged,” said Plagens, the student. “That’s actually sort of hilarious, that feminists are almost sexualizing women’s voting decisions. I would say they’re bad feminists for not letting women support who they want!”

Because Clinton has earned more delegates than Sanders, and surpasses him by two million in the popular vote, the time may arrive when Sanders admits defeat. Will his supporters go over to Clinton’s side?

“Hillary Clinton absolutely needs the votes of Sanders’ supporters. There is equal support of Trump and Clinton in youth votes,” said Sullivan. “Youth votes are heavily skewed towards Sanders, so if she wants the presidency, then yes, she needs them.”

Timeline of Hillary Clinton's campaign

Timeline of Hillary Clinton’s campaign

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