In some ways, Sen. Hillary Clinton LAW ’73 has already made history. Over the past several months, she has positioned herself as the first woman in America’s history legitimately poised to nab her party’s nomination for president. But despite her focus on women’s issues and her repeated attempts to reach out to females across the aisle, at least at Yale, she is having some trouble locking up the female vote.
Both male and female students interviewed by the News said Illinois Sen. Barack Obama’s aggressive campaign to court American’s youth has lured young women around the country away from Clinton. And as Obama supporters at Yale have grown increasingly vocal in recent weeks, they have created a palpable buzz on campus for the Illinois senator that has largely overshadowed the former Eli.
Female Obama supporters explained that their candidate’s appeal — fresh, youthful charisma juxtaposed with Clinton’s extensive political history — is particularly acute among the college-going crowd. And, as a result, Clinton simply cannot count on guaranteed votes from Yale women.
“With Obama, I felt a pure connection, and he worked hard to engage me as a young person,” said Sochie Nnaemeka ’09, a member of Yale for Obama and Women for Obama.
But for Yale Students for Hillary field director Emily Lechner ’09, Obama’s exciting, infectious message of change is not enough. As a voter, Lechner said she has been more impressed by Clinton’s 35 years of experience than Obama’s commitment to change in Washington.
Ben Stango ’11, president of Yale Students for Hillary, described Obama as a pop-culture politician who draws a pop-culture crowd. Clinton supporters, he said, are focused on policy and what the candidate will do in the office of the presidency.
But some Yale women said they are concerned that Clinton will not be as successful as Obama in transforming Washington, despite her much publicized self-description as an “agent of change.”
“Regardless of what she has said publicly, I think Hillary will be significantly influenced by her husband,” Lusdymer Pichardo ’11 said. “Bill will be behind the presidency, and I want a candidate who can stand on his own.”
But Lechner said she believes Clinton will be a champion of women’s issues — a focus that would be a significant departure from past administrations.
“She gave a speech in 1995 in Beijing, China where she said that women’s rights are human rights,” Lechner said. “That message reverberated throughout the world, and I think she would bring that perspective to the White House.”
But Pichardo said she values Obama’s commitment to ethnic minorities over the Clinton campaign’s emphasis on women. She said the Illinois senator would do a better job of representing minorities and has a better understanding of youth issues and challenges that face Americans of lower socio-economic status.
Nnaemeka said she admires Clinton’s intelligence, but she was not specifically looking for a women’s candidate when she chose Obama. She said youth issues, such as such as access to higher education, are of greater importance to her.
Brendan Gants ’08, a leader of Yale for Obama, told the News in October that Obama appeals to the passion of young people, and most importantly, they believe he will keep the promises he has made.
“Kids are looking to politics and seeing a dysfunctional system,” Gants said. “Obama offers a fundamental change and we know he will shake things up in Washington.”
Elizabeth Ludwig ’10, campus coordinator of Yale Students for Hillary, echoed Gants’ characterization of Obama’s appeal, but had reservations about his limited experience in Washington.
She said Obama is a young and attractive candidate with the characteristics of a popular icon, but Clinton has an equally compelling message of change. Her message is simply more subtle and focuses on individual issues including health care and the war in Iraq, she said.
The excitement that Obama has inspired among young voters has been more than evident in the early state primaries, especially the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 3. In that state, Obama captured 57 percent of the vote in the 17-29 age bracket and 42 percent in the 30-44 range.
Lechner, who maintains that Clinton does represent a significant departure from the norm in male-dominated Washington, said she is slightly surprised that there are not more female Hillary supporters involved at Yale.
“To some extent, the strong Obama support is understandable,” Lechner said. “But in my mind it’s so clear that we have a great opportunity to elect the strongest candidate, and that candidate is a woman — she can shatter through this glass ceiling of patriarchy.”
But is this disparity in youth support a result of stronger campaign efforts on the part of either campaign?
Ludwig said the Obama and Clinton campaign strategies have been designed in response to voters’ natural inclinations, based mostly on age demographics. Young voters instinctively react to Obama’s youth and charisma, while Clinton found support with a more mature audience, she said.
Consequently, Clinton has focused less intensely on appealing to young Americans, and this choice may have detracted from her female following at Yale, Ludwig said.
“It’s not that they ignored the young vote — it was strategic,” she said. “You want to pursue the vote that would be more likely to sway to your side, and it really comes down to delegates at this point, so they have concentrated their efforts on a more practical demographic.”
Ludwig also said the average young voter does not have a great deal of time to dedicate to researching candidates.
Students tend to listen to short sound bytes or watch YouTube videos, and decisions may come down to popular conception perpetuated by these mediums rather than policy issues.
Despite this, Ludwig said she does not discount the intelligence of young female voters, and she is confident that they will base their decisions on reasonable facts.
But reasonable facts aside, choosing a candidate can also be an emotionally driven process.
“Obama has made me feel more patriotic than I ever have in my entire life,” Nnaemeka said. “That’s why I’m voting for him.”
Polls for the Connecticut primary are open today from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.