INDIANAPOLIS — Hillary Clinton’s recent decision to spend $30 million in digital advertising to woo wired millennials may not move Trevor Gress.
Facing his first presidential election, Gress, 18, knows he won’t support Republican Donald Trump. But as an early supporter of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, he’s yet to move his loyalty to the Clinton camp.
“I feel disenfranchised,” said Gress, an Indiana University student from the small town of Santa Claus.
For Gress, who was politically active in high school, it’s an unhappy place to be.
But it’s a common one for his cohort, as revealed by a series of recent polls that show Clinton struggling to win over critical millennial voters who helped put current President Barack Obama into office. Her Republican opponent, Trump, fares even worse.
Like his classmate Gress, Noah Davidson was an early Sanders’ supporter — one of the few, he said, from his conservative high school in the Republican-leaning city of Lebanon.
Unlike Gress, Davidson moved his support to Clinton, though without the same enthusiasm he once had for Sanders.
“I was in the minority in my high school as a Sanders’ supporter,” he said. “But it feels even more so now. You don’t really meet that many young enthusiastic Hillary supporters.”
Gress and Davidson are both part of a select group of freshmen enrolled in the IU Civic Leaders Center program on the Bloomington campus. Political engagement is what they love best. The students live in the same dormitory and consider it flattery to be called a political geek.
During an upcoming fall break, many will head to Washington for a field trip with program director Paul Helmke, a former Republican mayor of Fort Wayne who went to law school with Hillary and Bill Clinton.
But some have yet to decide who they want as next occupant of the White House.
They’re not alone. A recent Quinnipiac University poll showed Clinton getting 31 percent of support among voters between ages 18 and 34, with a slim 5-point lead over Trump.
Four years ago, Obama captured 60 percent of the group’s vote.
“I can’t support Hillary,” said freshman Blaize Hiatt, who spent her summer volunteering with local Republicans in her hometown of Evansville. But Trump deeply offends her, with what she called a “dumb” and un-presidential penchant for insulting people on Twitter.
Like her Civic Leaders classmates, this is Hiatt’s first presidential election. Earlier this year, she’d hoped to be casting a vote for a moderate Republican, maybe a Jeb Bush or a Marco Rubio, both of whom she admires for what she calls “good moral character.”
She feels cheated with her choices now.
“I feel so disillusioned,” she said.
Her classmate Dan Dowd understands.
Raised in a Republican household, he came to college with a conservative bent. He’s now a finance major and is convinced that the economic elements of the GOP platform hold the promise of prosperity for more Americans.
He was ready to vote for Ohio Gov. John Kasich — until he dropped out of the race for the GOP nomination.
Dowd bluntly describes Trump as crazy, and said he’s offended by what comes out of the nominee’s mouth. “It doesn’t make sense to me how he can say what he does, and then he goes up in the polls,” he said.
He’s unsure if he’s ready to join friends who’ve decided to vote for Libertarian Gary Johnson in protest.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” he said.
Neel Sathi, a fellow Civic Leaders student who describes himself as conservative on gun control and abortion, hopes that Dowd will resign himself to do what he’s going to do — vote for Trump.
He won’t be voting for the man, just the Republican candidate.
“Ultimately it comes down to who has control over the Supreme Court,” said Sathi, of the president’s duty to nominate justices.
For Daniel Carrillo Valent, the upcoming election is an unwelcome lesson in heartbreak.
The child of an immigrant from Mexico, Valent has spent 14 years waiting to become a citizen so that he can vote. He’s recently learned that status may come through any day, making him eligible to cast his first ballot for president.
But Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric offends him.
And Clinton’s reputation as untrustworthy worries him.
“It really comes down to who you hate less,” he said.
Maureen Hayden is statehouse bureau chief for CNHI newspapers. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.