Polling station voters sign (79332)
Credit: Nia Sanders

With the presidential debate fresh in their minds, millennials shared their thoughts.

Only a few minutes into the first presidential debate Monday, a room packed with young voters at the College of Staten Island groaned in unison. Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton had just dropped a cringe worthy “Trump-ed up trickle-down” line to describe the Republican nominee’s economic plan. If the reaction in that room is indicative of how millennials feel about the two candidates, both campaigns are in trouble.

Millennials, defined by the Pew Research Center as those ages 18-35 and born after 1980, make up 75.4 million of the U.S. population and are now the largest generation in the U.S. The generation has been designated as a key voting bloc in this year’s presidential election.

“This could very easily be the difference between winning the election or not,” Andrew Baumann, a Democratic pollster who polls millennials, told The Atlantic in September. “If she ends up with them at 50 percent [of the vote] or 55 percent or 60 percent, those are hugely different scenarios.”

Both Trump and Clinton have struggled with the demographic. In the Democratic primaries, Clinton failed to woo millennials as Sen. Bernie Sanders won the majority of their support in most states. And Trump is widely disliked by millennials, capturing only 29 percent of their support in an August Quinnipiac University poll.

Joshua Ulloa, a junior at CUNY’s College of Staten Island who helped organize the screening, said that major candidates don’t speak enough about issues that young voters care about. Ulloa said that he saw some improvement in the debate, citing both candidates’ earnest attempt to grapple with the idea of police brutality.

“How engaged millennials are will depend on who can genuinely touch on the issues we care about,” said Ulloa, president of the college’s student government body.

After the watch party, Ulloa collected hypothetical votes on Post-it notes from students. The results were 17 votes for Clinton, two for Trump, two for Gary Johnson, one for Bernie Sanders, one for Jill Stein and two for Harambe (the gorilla who died this past summer, who has since become a popular meme).

The results reflect the worries of supporters on both sides of the aisle: Do millennials take this election cycle seriously?

Neil Button, a coordinator at the nonpartisan New York Public Interest Research Group, says they do. Button spent much of last year and this year registering CUNY students to vote. Button said that although some peg millennials as uninterested or too idealistic, he has seen a passion to vote from scores of students.

“I think the whole millennial apathy thing has been largely overplayed,” said Button. “Young people do care; they care about big ideas and I think they will turn out this election. It’s the theater of politics that turns them off.”

Marcus Del Valle, a member of the student activist group Staten Island Against Racism and Police Brutality, explained that just because a candidate mentions an issue that young people care about doesn’t mean that young voters are convinced.

“You almost can’t be silent on these types of issues because you will get called out on it now,” said Del Valle, 26. “But it’s not a natural conviction to solve the issue.”

Del Valle believes that many millennials have realized the importance of this election cycle and, at least for now, have put their ideals aside.

“I know for a fact I won’t see the changes that I truly want and care about,” he said. “That doesn’t mean I’m giving up on radical change, but there are times that I have to accept incremental change.”