Clinton supporters use smartphones to photograph the candidate. Photo by Scott Ball.
Hillary Clinton supporters use smartphones to photograph the candidate during a visit to San Antonio in 2015. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

With the presidential election less than one month away, one of the big questions is how Millennials will vote. Faced with what some are calling a “lesser of two evils” choice between Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and Republican candidate Donald Trump, many are defecting to third-party candidates Dr. Jill Stein of the Green Party or former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party.

Democrats are worried that the Stein and Johnson campaigns will pull votes away from Clinton and her growing lead against Trump in the polls.

Stein is slated to visit San Antonio this Sunday during a tour of Texas cities including El Paso, Houston, and a possible fourth event in Austin. She’ll join local Green Party candidates at the Una Pachanga Familia del Partido Verde at Galeria EVA, 3412 S. Flores St. from 4-7 p.m.

Stein and Johnson will appear on the Nov. 8 ballot, below Trump and Clinton, above the write-in option. Because polls indicated less than 15% support for either, the Green and Libertarian party candidates will not be allowed to participate in official presidential debates. According to recent poll data aggregated by USA Today on Wednesday, Johnson has 6.4% support compared to Stein’s 2.1%. Clinton was up to 44.3% after a video containing a recording of Trump bragging about sexual assault was released last week, knocking him down to 39.7%.

Former Democratic candidate U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vermont) has warned that voting for a third party in protest of the mainstream is a dangerous prospect that could see Donald Trump become president. Former Green Party leader Ralph Nader was criticized for playing such a role in Al Gore’s 2000 campaign against former President George W. Bush.

Millennial voters have just about overtaken Baby Boomers as the largest share of the American electorate, according to a Pew Research Center report, “but will they vote?” 

Sanders had wooed a large percentage of Millennials, and now they’re being courted by every candidate. A poll conducted by Women’s Voices Women Vote show that a large share of Millennials are considering Hillary Clinton by as large as a 2-to-1 margin.

This is a snapshot of some of San Antonio’s Millennials’ points of view, the result of several weeks of talking to dozens of people. What I found was a diverse group of young professionals and students, most of them either tacitly supporting Clinton to avoid a Trump presidency or anxiously undecided. Overall, they expressed deep frustration with the U.S. two-party political system.

The Idealists

Some polls show a section of former Sanders supporters that will not support Clinton, despite Sanders’ pledge to fully support her. At the Bexar County Green Party (BCGP) meeting earlier this month, many members called Sanders a “sell out,” no longer representing the true ideals of the movement he started.

In fact, most people at the meeting were former Sanders supporters looking for a candidate they thought best represented a progressive agenda. They found Dr. Jill Stein, Massachusetts environmental activist and physician to place their hopes. She has only served in municipal government as an elected member of the Lexington Town Meeting, the legislative body of a city with a population of around 30,000.

Alfonso Lozoya is a 24-year-old freelance data collector currently working on building a better website for the BCGP. He said he was “Bernie or bust.” Then came the bust.

“I just chose Jill Stein over Hillary,” he said. “(Stein) is not corrupt. She’s more like Bernie as a progressive. Hillary’s not progressive at all.”

A Jill Stein supporter at the Nurses Campaign to Heal the World rally at Daley Plaza as part of the 2012 N.A.T.O. Summit in Chicago.
A Jill Stein supporter at the Nurses Campaign to Heal the World rally at Daley Plaza as part of the 2012 N.A.T.O. Summit in Chicago. Credit: niXerKG / FlickrCC

When I asked him about Sanders’ comments on third-party votes, Lozoya said he’s right and would listen to him if he lived in a swing state.

“If it’s a swing state, I would hold my nose to it and vote for Hillary. But this is Texas, and it’s gonna go red,” he explained. “I’m just trying to get Jill Stein to 5% of the vote.”

Texas voter law requires a political party to win at least 5% of the general election vote to be automatically placed on future ballots, otherwise that party would have to petition for a spot by collecting signatures equal to 1% of the previous election’s voter turnout.

Lozoya said that the only way he would change his mind on Clinton is if she apologizes for the Democratic National Committee’s (DNC) treatment of Sanders.

“If she says she’s sorry for her past record as a moderate and for the DNC leaks then I would consider voting for her,” he said.

Lozoya voted for President Obama in 2012, thinking that he was going to push for a single-payer option in reforming the Affordable Care Act. When that didn’t happen, he lost trust in the Democratic Party. The DNC email leak didn’t help.

“After that, it’s kind of hard to consider voting for them.”

The Conscience Voters

When I reached out to a local Libertarian Party organizer, she was quick to tell me that she knows dozens of Millennials who are voting for Johnson. He presents himself as the “honest” alternative to the two major party candidates, and it appears to be working on some Millennial voters who say they can’t bring themselves to support Donald Trump.

The Libertarians I spoke with called Johnson an honest candidate, someone who will tell you the truth even if he doesn’t know something like what Aleppo is or the name of a foreign leader he admires. Most of the young Johnson supporters didn’t care if he didn’t know these things, telling me that libertarianism focuses more on domestic issues and staying out of foreign entanglements.

A sign in support of Libertarian Presidential candidate Gary Johnson and his running mate Bill Weld in a front yard in Alamo Heights.
A sign in support of Libertarian Presidential candidate Gary Johnson and his running mate Bill Weld in a front yard in Alamo Heights. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Roberto Viejo is a 29-year-old entrepreneur who has been a Libertarian since he was 18. He said that his vote is not just an ideological one.

“Both major party candidates are not fit to be president,” Viejo said. “I think Donald Trump makes that case every day. And Hillary Clinton’s emails, some foreign policy stances, I mean there’s a pattern of things that follow her through her career. And America wasn’t founded on a few elite families trading power every so often.”

He said that Johnson is the only candidate who is genuine and trustworthy. There’s nothing that will change his mind, as he sees Johnson as a promising disruptor to the two-party system. Viejo doesn’t believe what Sanders says about dangerous votes.

“When people say that, what you’re doing is perpetuating the two-party system,” he said. “You’re saying that my vote and my opinion (don’t) matter. It’s never going to be a perfect union. It’s the pursuit of a perfect union with discussion and compromise. Don’t concern yourself with the lesser of two evils. Vote for who you want to be president.”

Danielle Oliver is a college student who has been a Libertarian since the last presidential election. Her support of Johnson is based strictly on policy issues, which she said draw from the best of both mainstream parties.

“I like the libertarian platform because it’s socially liberal and fiscally conservative,” Oliver explained. “(Johnson) is honest, he sticks to the issues, and he matches my views almost 100%.”

She says that she sees the good in both candidates, but the negatives outweigh the positives.

“I despise Hillary Clinton. She’s been caught lying and she keeps lying about things. She has a pretty decent view of world issues but I don’t trust her,” she said. “And I think Trump is a decent candidate. He’s not articulate but the ideas are there.”

She stressed that her vote for Johnson is not a waste.

“If everyone who said that (the vote) is a waste voted for Johnson then he would be president,” she argued.

Graham, a college student who didn’t want his last name used for this story, is a Libertarian who voted for Sanders in the Democratic primary, and supported Clinton after she clinched the nomination. But when he started to research other options, he landed on Johnson.

“I don’t believe in big government. Having the government do everything for you isn’t a good thing,” Graham said. “On the Republican side, I don’t like the antagonism towards minorities. They’re inherently good people. Blocking immigration creates more problems than it solves.”

The only way Graham will switch back to Clinton is if she “dropped her corporate sponsors.

“I find that appalling. She’s basically owned. She got bought out,” he argued. “Bernie was totally against crony capitalism.”

He doesn’t think he’s wasting his vote, as Sanders has suggested.

“I believe a vote for Gary Johnson is a vote for Gary Johnson,” Graham said. “One of the biggest drawbacks of the major parties is how much they focus their campaigns on outright lies. Johnson strives to be honest all of the time.”

The Tightrope Walkers

Of the people I talked to over the course of reporting this story, Millennial Republicans were the most divided. Much like the GOP itself today, there’s a fracture that threatens to break the party up. There is no real consensus among its members. Some of them support Trump as a candidate but not as a person. Some are in search of an alternative.

One young Republican, a college student who did not want to be named for this story, retracted statements made to the Rivard Report after the recording of Trump’s decade-old lewd comments about women was released. I interviewed this person last Friday, just before the video made its rounds on social media and news outlets. The individual contacted me to withdraw support of Trump later that night.

About 100 people protest Donald Trump outside the Grand Hyatt hotel during his private fundraising event on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2016.
About 100 people protest Donald Trump outside the Grand Hyatt hotel during his private fundraising event on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2016. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

At a “Tigers for Liberty” panel of minority Republicans in Texas at Trinity University Monday night, some panelists supported Trump and some didn’t. But they all claimed one thing: The Republican Party is the most diverse mainstream party today. Polling does not reflect that, however, showing that the Democratic Party is more diverse.

Their reasons for voting or not voting for Trump were all different. Some of the Hispanic panelists said that voting for him would be an insult to their culture and heritage. A few said that they would be voting for him because he’s on the Republican ticket, and therefore needs unwavering support. They argued that the “minority backlash” that is being reported as an effect of Trump’s candidacy is being overblown by the left and the media.

One of the panelists, senior Zachary Rodriguez, told me he’s probably not going to vote at all.

“I feel like Donald Trump has unique insight with his business background, but you have to have a certain demeanor to be president,” he said. “And what he does, what he says is not cutting it. I’m disappointed because having a businessperson run the country would be unique.”

I asked him what any of the candidates could do to convince him to change his mind.

“Trump would have to completely change his demeanor and apologize for everything that he’s said. But that damage is already done for me,” he explained. “(Clinton) would have to change her defense policy. But even then, there’s a lot of ideals that don’t line up.”

He said that he’s been too busy to read up on third-party candidates.

“I’ve just been watching the debates and studying (for school) so I’m not too familiar with their background,” he said. “But honestly, I think someone else besides Clinton and Trump would be good for everybody.”

Ben Pawelek, chairman of the UTSA College Republicans, has been supportive of Trump since the primary and isn’t wavering now.

“He may not be the most perfect person, but he’s got a lot of policy ideas that I think could work and he’s a way better alternative to Hillary Clinton,” he said. “I think Gary Johnson’s policies go a little too far and he doesn’t know enough to be president.”

The Pragmatists

At a press conference of Texas Democrats on Tuesday, held during Trump’s fundraiser in downtown San Antonio, I asked U.S. Rep. Joaquín Castro (D-Texas) what he would say to Millennials who are considering voting for a third-party candidate.

U.S. Rep. Joaquín Castro (D-Texas)
U.S. Rep. Joaquín Castro (D-Texas). Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

“I would ask them to revisit the 2000 (presidential) election, what happened in Florida, and the consequences of that election,” Castro said. “Voting for the Libertarian candidate or the Green candidate, in this case, can help throw the election toward Donald Trump. And young voters are going to have to live with the policy consequences of the next president more than any other generation in America.”

Many of the young Democrats that I spoke with shared the same sentiment.

Nicholas Santulli, a 21-year-old college Democrat, told me that Clinton has turned out to be the best candidate after a long race.

“I like a lot of her policy positions. She’s shown herself to be a fighter and has the ability to lead our country through difficult times,” he said. “Sanders has pushed her to the left on a lot of issues, like student loans.”

The trust issues that most people have with Clinton have been overhyped, Santulli argued.

“I think a lot of times the trust issue is a gendered one,” he said. “A lot of that is a narrative that’s been built up by the right and by the media. She’s the best option we have, because in a democracy there’s never an ideal candidate. But I trust her because she’s laid out her policy positions very clearly.”

He said that, while some Democrats are thinking about voting for Stein, he’s not one of them.

“I don’t think Stein’s policies are realistic,” he said. “She tries to take Sanders’ stances and magnify them. I don’t see her as a legitimate candidate. I see her as pandering most of the time. Be mindful of the consequences of your vote, and not just what your conscience tells you.”

Delaney Tholen is a 32-year-old paralegal and president of the Bexar County Young Democrats. She was an avid Sanders supporter who now backs Clinton.

“She is fantastically prepared to be president,” she said. “She has the professional and ideological background that fits with our government and our society.”

She doesn’t think that Johnson or Stein are professionally qualified to be president, but understands why some Millennials are defecting to them.

“The two-party system is not ideal, but it’s what we have right now,” Tholen said. “When you don’t cast your vote in the alignment of the two-party system, your vote isn’t as meaningful. I understand that some of my counterparts are very disillusioned with the way things are, but this is not the time to protest vote.”

The Undecideds

This is the largest group of people I talked to. They tend to be younger and busy – most of them are in college. A lot of them recently registered to vote on their campuses and were trying to decide between the two major party candidates.

Colton Moseley, an 18-year-old freshman at St. Mary’s University, told me that he and most of his family are voting for Clinton. They don’t think Trump can help them in any way. I asked him about third parties.

“There are third-party candidates?” he asked. “Oh, those. Yeah, no. I feel like we should put someone in office who’s had more experience.”

Anthony Robledo, another 18-year-old”post-Millennial,” told me that while he’s leaning toward Clinton, he likes some of Trump’s policies.

“Overall, I consider myself a Democrat, and I like her stances on certain things, but it’s very difficult (to support her),” Robledo said. “I mean, I understand that most politicians are liars, but to be so transparent as Hillary is unprecedented.”

He said he likes Trump’s tax plan for a reason I hadn’t heard yet.

Undecided voter Anthony Rebledo stands for a photograph at Saint Mary's University.
Undecided voter Anthony Robledo stands for a photograph at St. Mary’s University. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

“I actually do enjoy his tax plan. Coming from a multi-billionaire, it does make sense,” he explained. “It does help him more than anyone else but that’s the foundation of America. What we’re talking about in class right now is how the founders were all economic elitists who focused on themselves but made the country stable at the same time.”

Paola Dominguez, the third 18-year-old I spoke to in this group, said that she supported Clinton at first because she is a woman, but things changed as the election season went on.

“But then the email scandal happened and she turned out to be kind of evil,” Dominguez said. “But Trump is evil, too. And (then) I watched part of the debate and they both made good points.”

She said that to get her vote, the candidates will have to explain their policies directly, instead of talking around them and fighting at the debates.

“I want to know what they’re gonna do, how they’ll do it, and where (the money) is going to come from,” she said. “Right now they’re not doing that. They’re just telling you what they want to do.”

She said that, up until I brought it up, she wasn’t really aware of Johnson or Stein. But she’s open to researching them if Clinton and Trump don’t convince her.

“Right now, they’re just attacking each other and not answering questions.”

Election day is approaching quickly. According to the Texas Tribune, a record 15 million people are registered to vote in Texas. Many of them are young, frustrated, and still looking for a candidate to support. Based on the people I talked to on all sides of the political spectrum, many are defecting to third-party candidates or are seriously considering it. No matter who San Antonio’s Millennials chose to vote for for president, the results will be historic one way or the other.

Former intern James McCandless is a recent St. Mary's University graduate. He has worked with the San Antonio Current and Texas Public Radio.