As the election approaches, Washington college students talk about who they support for president, and why. Many will vote for Hillary Clinton, but not always enthusiastically.

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College student Adam Schaefer has seen the posts all over social media — friends and classmates writing that they’re not voting for either GOP nominee Donald Trump or Democrat Hillary Clinton. They’re casting a ballot for Libertarian Gary Johnson or Green Party candidate Jill Stein.

Schaefer, for one, doesn’t believe it.

“That’s a Facebook phenomenon,” says the Western Washington University student, dismissively. “Everyone I talk to — they say, ‘I’m voting for Hillary.’ ”

But sometimes they also tell him, “I’m not enthusiastic about it.”

How millennials will vote, and whether they will vote at all, is one of the great unknowns of the 2016 presidential election.

Many say they were crushed when Sen. Bernie Sanders pulled out of the race for the Democratic nomination. Some polls say those disaffected voters are more likely to vote for a third-party candidate, or not vote at all. As recently as a month ago, both Atlantic Magazine and research by MTV Insights suggested that 18- to 34-year-olds held the key to whether Trump or Clinton would take the White House.

Since then, national polls have shifted more decisively in Clinton’s favor, following the leaked videotape of Trump boasting about groping women, and women coming forward to say he had done that to them.

Seattle University sophomore Emi Montenegro plans to vote for Clinton — but her support is tepid, at best, for a woman she believes isn’t attuned to the hardships endured by the poor and people of color.

Montenegro, whose parents were born in Colombia, was much more enthusiastic about Sanders — especially his progressive agenda and his promises to make college free.

On the other hand, she’s fearful of what a Trump presidency could bring. Close friends of hers were born in Mexico but have lived most of their lives in the U.S. She worries they could be deported under a Trump administration.

Nina Tran — a Garfield High alum and Western Washington University student — traveled from Bellingham down to Seattle this spring to go to a Sanders rally at KeyArena. It was an intoxicating, heady time for Bernie fans, Tran recalled.

Sanders talked about tackling climate change, and making the economy more equitable. When he dropped out, though, Tran moved her support to Clinton. “I’m really behind the fact she’d be a woman in power,” said Tran.

Tran was in Germany this spring when it appeared likely that Trump would win the Republican nomination. Friends overseas were appalled by the real-estate mogul’s rise to power. “I think of what Trump might mean as president — if it would be safe traveling abroad,” she said.

Behind the Vote

About the Series
The Seattle Times is exploring how the state’s political geography — from wheat country to Seattle’s tech centers, from suburbia to pulp-mill towns — is shifting in this historic election year.
  • Blue-collar jobs in timber and manufacturing continue to wane, leaving a cadre of traditionally Democratic voters economically and politically adrift.
  • The state’s Latino population is on the rise. But during last year’s general election in Yakima County — now home to as many Latinos as whites — only a small percentage of voters with Spanish surnames voted.
  • Puget Sound suburbs, once reliable ground for Republican candidates, are growing bluer as college-educated women tend to vote Democratic.
  • GOP voters in reliably Republican Lincoln County struggle with Trump — but he’ll win there anyway.
  • Even in close families and friendships, presidential politics has created such a strain that some people have agreed to stop talking until the election is over.
In stories, graphics and videos, “Behind the Vote” offers an election-year portrait of Washington state.

She’s dismayed by the negative, hostile campaign and flashes of what she calls misogyny and racism from Trump. Polls underscore that issue — more than 70 percent of millennials in one survey said that Trump is a racist.

Montenegro hopes that the new focus on sexual assault brought about by Trump’s uncensored comments in the leaked videotape, and the stories of his accusers, could lead to a heightened focus on sexual assault.

If Clinton is elected, “I’m hoping she can use that in a positive way,” she said.

On Clinton’s side

Western student Adam Schaefer, who caucused for Sanders, also had no reservations about switching his allegiance to Clinton.

The political-science major feels a kinship with the former secretary of state, who started her political career working for Marian Wright Edelman’s Children’s Defense Fund.

Schaefer has already worked on political campaigns — for U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, and for Whatcom County Councilman Todd Donovan. Schaefer’s got a job lined up after he graduates in January, working on progressive political causes in Bellingham.

If Clinton were 20 years old and living in Bellingham today, he believes, she’d be doing the same kind of grass-roots activism that he’s doing now.

His outlook has been shaped by his parents, both Republicans hit hard by the recession. His father lost his job, and the family declared bankruptcy That’s why Sanders’ economic message resonated — even for his parents, who caucused for the Vermont senator in May.

Schaefer thinks the political divide between Americans isn’t as vast as it’s often portrayed. He’s had conversations with Trump supporters and found their views to be more nuanced than he expected.

“Once you have a face-to-face conversation, most people agree on most things,” he said.

But for him, that level of understanding doesn’t extend to a Trump presidency. “I don’t want Donald Trump giving a U.N. speech,” Schaefer said. “I really dislike what he’s done to this election.”

Siding with Trump

If he wears it on campus at all, Western student Jason Perman wears his pro-Trump T-shirt hidden underneath another shirt. “If you build it, they won’t come,” the shirt reads, referring to the wall on the U.S.-Mexico border that Trump vows to construct.

Perman is a 24-year-old Army veteran who served in the reserves for years and plans to go into law enforcement.

“I do not like political correctness,” he said. “I like bold and brash — as an Army vet, I respect that … When Trump says something, I believe him more.”

Perman voted for President Obama in 2012, but became disillusioned with Democratic orthodoxy and especially with Obamacare, which he describes as “a great betrayal — the largest corporate giveaway in history.”

Trump is his ideal candidate: “A tremendously rich guy who doesn’t mind blowing money to fix things” and who, he says, hasn’t been bought off by special interests financing his campaign.

He especially likes Trump’s stance against current trade deals and illegal immigration, and his calls to reduce the number of H-1B visas for foreign workers.

Perman believes that, as a white man, he’s already less likely to be hired than a person of color in a public-sector job, and that a Trump presidency could change his prospects.

Third-party options

Polls show that among millennials, third-party candidates are doing well. In an early October poll conducted by Times/CBS, more than a third of voters between the ages of 18 and 29 said they would vote for a third-party candidate.

No surprise to Sean Rita, a Western junior who’s been interested in politics since seventh grade. He’s a member of WWU’s Libertarian club, Young Americans for Liberty, and backs Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson.

He was influenced by the writings of former Texas congressman and presidential candidate Ron Paul. Rita believes government does more harm than good, and he doesn’t think guns, marijuana or borders should be regulated.

“I don’t think humans were meant to live in a nanny state,” he said.

He’s equally turned off by Clinton (“the walking definition of cronyism”) and Trump (“he changes his mind every other minute”).

 

Adam Oberstadt doesn’t hold the same antipathy for Clinton, but he’s casting his vote for Green Party candidate Jill Stein. Washington’s electoral-college votes will almost surely go to Clinton, he figures, so he’s free to support the Green Party.

It’s been a complicated year for him, politically speaking, because Sanders used the Democratic Party platform to spread a message that “has tons in common with the Green Party,” Oberstadt said. Like many Green Party members, he participated in the state’s Democratic caucus in order to support Sanders.

A history major at Western who grew up in Mountlake Terrace, Oberstadt, a junior, has been active in the Green Party for two years and “came of age when a lot of discontent arose over the existence of two parties,” he said.

If either Stein or Johnson wins 5 percent of the vote nationally, their respective parties will get automatic ballot access in most of the country, along with public matching funds.

“We’ll have a strong start for 2020,” Oberstadt said.