Young voters have the numbers to play a big role in the presidential race and Democratic frontrunner is leaving nothing to chance in Iowa
In the run-up to the Iowa caucus in 2008, the Hillary Clinton campaign quipped disparagingly that Senator Barack Obamas supporters looked like Facebook.
At a coffee shop in Iowa City on Saturday, 23 days before the 2016 caucus, the crowd of Clinton supporters looked like Snapchat.
The few-dozen fresh-faced, mostly female voters who had turned out in frigid weather to hear Lena Dunham pitch for the Democratic frontrunner broke into applause when they saw the TV star and author emerge from the back of the coffee house, wearing a Hillary jumper. When the applause died down, the phones went up.
Im embarrassed to say this but it took me far too long to start voting, Dunham said. I had been of legal age for more than four years before I cast my first vote in the 2008 presidential election.
Its not that I didnt care, but I didnt believe that me caring mattered. It was impossible for me to comprehend that one young woman checking a box after waiting in a long line could matter on a national level.
Several young women nodded in agreement.
The unleashing of Dunham, with her tribe of young, feminist followers, is part of a concerted effort to attract the young and the cool to Clintons increasingly confident campaign.
While Clinton maintains a commanding national lead in the race for the Democratic nomination her surprise challenger from the left, 74-year-old Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, has attracted many young voters. Indeed, an NBC poll of Iowa voters released on Sunday put him on 45% support, only 3% behind Clinton.
Other polls show an age gap between supporters of the two candidates. A recent Harvard Institute of Politics survey of 18-to-29-year-olds, for example, found that 35% of such likely Democratic primary voters preferred Clinton, while 41% preferred Sanders.
Sanderss message, focused on gross wealth and income inequality, is particularly powerful for young people burdened by student loan debt.
Kristine Adams, an international politics and Spanish major at Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire, which is traditionally visited by all the presidential candidates, said she would graduate in 2016 with $80,000 student loan debt.
When the Democratic candidates visited the college last year, she said, there was one candidate who really energized the campus.
By far the most on-campus involvement came for Bernie Sanders, she said. There were a lot of students at the Hillary Clinton event, but it seemed like more students were there to take pictures and tell their moms.
Young people eluded Clinton in 2008, as Obama won the Iowa caucus thanks to a large student turnout and then won the nomination.
If not for young people in Iowa, shes likely president today, said John Della Volpe, director of polling at Harvards Institute of Politics.
Young people have the numbers to play an even bigger role in 2016. Millennials represent about 36% of eligible voters. The Harvard survey also found that 56% of 18-to-29-year-olds want to see a Democrat in the White House next year, compared with 36% who said they preferred a Republican.
Della Volpe said such young voters were highly discerning, with deep concern for their country and a desire to engage politically. Underestimating them would be a mistake for any candidate to make, he said.
Nobody thought that young people would do what they did in 2008, until they did, Della Volpe said. This is a constituency that can still play a big role in determining the nominee of both parties.
Therefore, Clinton is leaving nothing to fate posing for selfies with supporters and celebrities, joining Snapchat, touring campus colleges, dancing on Ellen DeGeneres TV show, ribbing Donald Trump (and herself) on Saturday Night Live, and even taping a segment for a Comedy Central show, Broad City.
She is not, though, the only candidate with star power at her disposal. Sanders has secured support from actors Will Ferrell, Mark Ruffalo and Jeremy Piven, rapper Killer Mike and comedian Sarah Silverman.
Shes my firework
The value of celebrity endorsements in presidential politics is hard to quantify. In 2008, talkshow host and media mogul Oprah Winfreys endorsement may have given Obama the edge he needed.
A 2013 study published in the Journal of Law, Economics & Organization concluded that Winfreys endorsement earned Obama an additional million votes that he wouldnt have had without her help. The study also suggested that celebrity endorsements may be more valuable during a primary race, to help distinguish between candidates who are ideologically similar.
Clinton has deployed her A-list roster at campaign events across the country, using their star power to amplify her message to a larger audience of young people especially women and minorities.
In August, while Republicans took the stage for their first debate, Clinton tried to steal the limelight, posing for a selfie with Kim Kardashian and Kanye West at a fundraising event in Los Angeles. Salma Hayek and Marc Anthony helped her launch her Latinos for Hillary campaign and, weeks later, Katy Perry performed at a rally in Des Moines.
Shes my firework, Perry said of Clinton.
Occasionally, Clinton returns the compliment.
I want to be as good a president as Beyonc is a performer, Clinton told a young voter in Iowa last month.
Democratic pollster Anna Greenberg, however, said tapping celebrity culture to woo the cool kids was a time-honored tradition in Democratic presidential politics, not a sign Clinton was worried about winning the youth vote.
She will absolutely win the Democratic nomination, Greenberg said. And Hollywood supports Democrats.
Greenberg said the strategy of appearing on celebrity television shows to reach a larger, younger crowd began with Clintons husband.
It started with her husband, with Bill, when he went on [The Arsenio Hall show] and played his saxophone, Greenberg said, of a famed appearance on the late-night talkshow in 1992.
At the time, candidates almost exclusively appeared on serious television shows, Greenberg said. But the appearance, though roundly mocked, resonated with the audience of twentysomethings and a larger audience of voters.
For Clinton, celebrities such as Dunham help bridge the generation gap between candidate and young people interested in her campaign.
In Iowa City on Saturday, Lizzy DePrenger, who will turn 18 in time to vote in the general election, said it was effective to hear about a candidates message, especially on feminism and womens rights, from a person whose opinions on those issues she trusts.
Im a big fan of Lena, and Ive always been a fan of Hillary, DePrenger said after the actress spoke. That a strong woman in television who has revolutionized the business is showing her support for Hillary, I think its made me support Hillary even more.
But celebrity outreach can only go so far.
I actually didnt even know who Lena Dunham was, said Elizabeth Leas, who was committed to supporting Clinton in the 1 February Iowa caucus, after Dunham spoke in Des Moines.
I had to Google her name. We dont have cable.