Millennial voters are up for grabs. Here's how Trump or Clinton can win them over

Students during a presidential race rally
Emily Molli | NurPhoto
Students during a presidential race rally

Millennials are essential to winning the upcoming presidential election. So Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump: If you're listening, here's what it's going to take.

I'm no political expert. But I'm an expert on millennials and millennials hold the keys to the White House. If you have any doubt about how important young voters are, just ask Mitt Romney.

In 2012, young voters were decisively in favor of Barack Obama, giving him a keen advantage over his opponent. This year, millennials came out in droves for Bernie Sanders, proving that if you're speaking the right language, young voters are willing to get involved in the political system. Millennials aren't apathetic narcissists who refuse to vote. We're the largest generation in American history—a necessary demographic to win if you hope to live on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Regardless of demographics, Clinton and Trump are both facing an uphill battle to the White House. If they want to start gaining ground, particularly among America's youngest voters—and believe me they do—then they better get moving. I'll offer four recommendations, in case their campaign managers are reading:

Clarify your stance on immigration.

Of all the issues facing our nation, immigration is close to the heart of young voters. Millennials are the most diverse generation in America. More than a third of us are bilingual, and according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 44.2 percent are a part of a minority race or ethnic group. It's no wonder we're concerned about government deportations—those people are our friends, our neighbors, our family.

In this arena, Clinton is edging out her competition. While Clinton has voiced support for a path to legal citizenship, Trump has focused on the ties between illegal immigrants and crime. Millennials are smart enough to handle some nuance. We understand that immigration is a matter of national security and diversity—and desire a candidate with a similarly nuanced plan for the future. If he wants to win the millennial vote, Trump might consider the valuable contributions immigrants make to our society as well.

Detail your plans for conflict resolution at home and abroad.

It's hard for millennials to remember a time when America wasn't at war. Our childhood was marked by 9/11—an event that taught us that any city could turn into a war zone in an instant. That lesson was tragically repeated in Orlando just a few weeks ago. But that experience hasn't made us hawkish. More than three-quarters of millennials aren't convinced we should get involved in the Syrian conflict. And only 18 percent of millennials strongly support the use of drones, compared to 40 percent of older voters. A majority of millennials are gun shy—not because we're pacifists—but because for the last decade, we feel we've been kept in the dark.

That's why both candidates have a long way to go to win our trust as Commander and Chief. We need more information. Details. Not platitudes about diplomacy or making America great again. Clinton has Bengazi to overcome. Trump is a wildcard, which frightens young male and female voters—since both sexes now serve in the armed forces. Rather than minimizing the threats we're up against or using fear to engender support, millennials want a clear understanding of how each candidate plans to pursue peace. We want to believe that it's possible again.

Keenan Beasley left a position as VP of marketing at L’Oreal to co-found BLKBOX, a marketing intelligence firm based in NYC.
Sophie Bearman | CNBC
Keenan Beasley left a position as VP of marketing at L’Oreal to co-found BLKBOX, a marketing intelligence firm based in NYC.

Explain your ideas for education reform.

Young voters know that higher education is broken. The average U.S. millennial leaves college with $37,000 in student debt, according to Student Loan Hero. That albatross has led more millennials to move in with their parents than any other generation. It's no wonder that Bernie Sanders attracted droves of young people to his rallies, where he discussed providing free education. Whether Trump or Clinton want to go that far, they have to get one thing clear—millennials need answers about real plans for reform.

Clinton lists education reform on her website, alongside 31 other issues she names as "key policies" she would fight for as president. Trump's website doesn't list education at all. Both candidates could benefit from moving education to the center of their campaign platform, rather than the sidelines.

Talk to us where we are, not where you are.

America's 80 million millennials are consuming media in entirely new ways. More than half of young voters would rather receive a text than a phone call. Less than a quarter of millennials read a newspaper. Traditional television is rapidly becoming a thing of the past. If Clinton and Trump want to reach millennials, they're going to have to be a whole lot more creative than candidates of the past. And while both candidates are actively trying to master social media, neither has fully capitalized on the most millennial platform of all—Snapchat. Even Michelle Obama is already on board. While Hillary at least has an active account (@hillaryclinton), Trump has yet to join the fun. And it honestly could be really fun to watch Trump from behind the scenes.

In the same way that television changed the political game in the 1950s, the digital revolution is constantly re-shaping how candidates can communicate with young voters. No matter how candidates view the issues of immigration, foreign policy and education, the only thing that they absolutely have to get right is where they have the conversation. Whether that means streaming the debates Live on Facebook, or hosting the first-ever YouNow town forum with live Q&A's, something needs to be done to reach voters where they are.

We have a duty to ensure every young voter not only has a chance to make an educated decision, but is also excited about their future and the president who will take them there. Clinton and Trump should take nothing for granted and start tailoring their messages today.

Commentary by Keenan Beasley, co-founder, managing director, BLKBOX, a millennial advertising and marketing agency. The West Point graduate is also an adviser to a number of start-up companies and a regular lecturer at the USC Marshall School of Business. Follow him on Instagram.

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