Meet some PA millennial voters

2016-10-04T204113Z_1_LYNXNPEC931GP_RTROPTP_3_USA-ELECTION.JPG
Puppets in the likeness of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump face off as they pose for a photo after a mock debate in the Manhattan borough of New York.

HUNTRE KEIP, of Summit Hill in Carbon County, is pursuing a double major, political science and English, at Lebanon Valley College in central Pennsylvania.

She's interested in someday working in politics or broadcast news. And she's voting for Donald Trump. "I agree with his policies, and I don't trust Hillary Clinton," she says.

The 18-year-old Keip is among several young millennial voters I spoke with to get a sample, however unscientific, of what this touted bloc is thinking.

Two things surprised me: the variety of opinion and the level of engagement.

You might be surprised that there are 2.2 million Pennsylvania millennial voters, ages 18 to 34, making up a full 26 percent of the statewide registered vote.

There are 374,000-plus in Philadelphia, 259,000-plus in Allegheny County.

When Michelle Obama spoke at La Salle University last week, urging young people to vote for Clinton, she said young voters provided her husband's 2012 margin of victory in key states - Florida, Ohio, Virginia, Pennsylvania - without which he would have lost the presidency.

That's why Clinton's pushing hard for millennial support.

She's got it from Taylor Beck, 22, of Newtown, Bucks County, a poli-sci major at Gettysburg College.

Beck's a registered Republican and voted for Mitt Romney in 2012, but says she's voting Clinton because Trump "does not possess the correct temperament to be president, nor does he accurately represent the Republican Party."

Ah, but then there's Austin Hildebrand, 19, of Douglassville in Berks County, a criminal justice major at Lebanon Valley, who's voting Trump: "I like his policies and his personality. He's the candidate for change."

Or Lebanon Valley's Dustin Shepler, 21, of Galeton in Potter County, who's voting for Libertarian Gary Johnson, mostly to "send a message: I'm not happy with either Clinton or Trump."

As mentioned, there's no science here. And while both schools are smallish, pricey liberal arts places, Gettysburg is larger (2,600 students) than Lebanon Valley (1,600), draws from a wider area and is more expensive. Lebanon Valley is $51,530; Gettysburg $63,000.

So these are smart kids paying lots to get smarter.

And, based on those I spoke with, their politics are mixed, not unlike the college-educated general electorate.

I found many Clinton voters, some Trump voters (and assurances that there are many more Trump supporters on both campuses), an undecided voter and two graduating seniors expressing ideological or overall disgust, saying they will not vote.

What I didn't find was lack of interest or reluctance to talk about the election.

Tony Barbieri says that sounds about right. He should know. He teaches millennials and has for a decade. He's a writing/editing professor at Penn State's College of Communications and a former managing editor of the Baltimore Sun.

"I was amazed after the first debate when I asked my class of 120 how many watched, and almost every hand went up," Barbieri says. "It's the first time I ever got the feeling from that generation they're all doing the same thing at the same time."

And how does Barbieri think his millennials are voting?

"I hear they don't like either [major party] candidate and that many like Johnson, but I don't hear that from them," he says.

And while he agrees there's lots of attention to the race, he wonders if it's about "the theater" or an honest effort to find the best candidate.

An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll last week showed Clinton leading Trump among millennials by double digits, with or without Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein in the mix.

But does interest and preference translate to votes? Does this year's millennial vote turn out in numbers large enough to decide this year's election?

baerj@phillynews.com

Blog: ph.ly/BaerGrowls

Columns: ph.ly/JohnBaer