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Clinton Appeals to Young Iowa Voters at Second Debate, Despite Polls

Credit: Johnny Cather, TSPR
Sanders, Clinton, and O'Malley address the crowd in Des Moines before the second Democratic debate.

The second Democratic presidential debate took place at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa over the weekend. The campus is home to more than 4,000 full-time students and that's important to the candidates because young adults in Iowa vote 12% more frequently than the national average of 45%.

A recent poll from NBC News shows these young voters currently favor Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders by 15 points in the Democratic contest. Sanders supporters say this is due in part to his proposal for free public college education, as well as his desire to lift the federal ban on marijuana.

But contrary to that poll, Drake student Liz Bergenzer, who watched the debate, said Hillary Clinton is the candidate who caught her eye.

“She did a really good job with her rebuttals and defending herself. And I thought her arguments were really strong. And I just thought overall she did a great job. I’ve definitely taken more notice. I went to her rally when she was here with Katy Perry, and so that was a lot of fun. I’ve definitely become more involved in her campaign now,” Bergenzer said.

Credit Johnny Cather, TSPR
Drake University students Liz Bergenzer (right), Lindsey Gilberg (center), and Anna Jensen (left) attended the Clinton watch party together on Saturday.

Bergenzer and her friends attended a debate watch party in Drake’s Olmstead Center that was specifically for Hillary Clinton supporters. The attendees filled the venue to the point that some of them had to watch downstairs.

The Sanders watch party was held in the Varsity Theater in Des Moines. It’s a smaller venue and there did not seem to be any issues with overflow.

Clinton didn’t just grab the attention of young Democrats.

“I think [Clinton] was definitely the strongest candidate. I’m actually not a Democrat. From what I see, if I were a Democrat, I would be supportive of Hillary,” said Lindsey Gilberg, a Drake student who attended the Clinton watch party with Bergenzer and friends.

Credit Johnny Cather, TSPR
Clinton addresses her supporters at the watch party after the debate.

So why was Clinton able to appeal to so many young voters despite data that says otherwise?

Rather than specific policies, many supporters cited Clinton’s experience and determination as sources of her appeal.       

Dovile Svirupskaite, a Western Illinois University student who traveled to Des Moines to support Clinton in the debate, said she's gotten involved with the campaign on several occasions.

Credit Western Illinois University
Dovile Svirupskaite with Hillary Clinton at a rally earlier this year.

“She’s worked so hard for everything that she has. I saw kids that were 8 to 10 years old today in that room and it really shows that she has supporters from ages 6 all the way to 60 and that’s inspiring. I feel like it doesn’t matter how old you are, and she just has support from all those people,” Svirupskaite said.

The Iowa caucuses in early February will officially kick off the election season. While the polls show Bernie Sanders leading significantly among young voters, CNN’s most recent poll shows Hillary leading overall in Iowa by nearly 20 points.