President Biden is facing a disaster with young voters, increasing fears among Democrats that they are in danger of losing a generation if he doesn’t improve his standing with Generation Z.
Biden’s approval rating has declined across the board among Democrats, but the figures with people under 30 years old is cratering.
A New York Times-Siena College poll this week found 94 percent of Democratic primary voters ages 18 to 29 saying the party should nominate someone other than Biden in 2024.
Biden, 79, has never been the candidate for younger Democrats, though they did rally to help him win the White House in 2020 as the president endorsed key progressive policy initiatives to address climate change and other issues.
Now the polls suggest they could abandon him altogether amid frustration with a lack of progress in Washington on everything from climate change to abortion rights.
“A lot of the young people that I’m talking to in particular right now are asking what the point is of having a Democratic trifecta if our rights are still being ripped away,” said Ellen Sciales, communications director at the youth climate activist group the Sunrise Movement.
“Like, what’s the point of voting? And obviously we’re pushing people to vote, but it’s going to make it so much harder for us to do our jobs,” she said.
Biden received high marks from young voters at the start of his presidency. However, a Gallup poll released in April found that Biden’s approval rating had dropped 21 percentage points among Americans belonging to Generation Z — those born between 1997 and 2004 — and 19 percentage points among millennials — those born between 1981 and 1996 — between the start of his presidency and this past March.
A big focus when it comes to Biden and young voters is the president’s age. He would be 81 at the beginning of a second term in office, should he be reelected.
Yet Biden’s job performance, not his age, is the dominant issue driving young Democrats to prefer someone different than Biden in 2024, according to the New York Times-Siena College poll.
Young Democrats in the poll were the least likely to cite Biden’s age as the main reason for wanting new blood.
“I think it’s about issues rather than age,” said Democratic strategist Eddie Vale.
He and other Democrats note that Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), two progressives, were popular in 2020 with many young Democratic voters.
“Remember when loving [the late Sen.] Robert Byrd when he opposed the war was hot? And Bernie obviously isn’t a spring chicken. But young people are dealing with the same overall economic issues that everyone is, but are worse for them because they don’t have savings, a home, career stability, etc.,” Vale said.
He and others argue that Biden could improve his standing among younger Americans by taking more tangible steps to protect access to abortion following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Biden announced an executive order last week designed to protect access to abortion medication, contraception and emergency care and to shield women who travel out of state for an abortion from lawsuits.
Ashley Aylward, a research manager at the public opinion firm HIT strategies, said she conducted a focus group last week — before Biden’s executive order — during which young Democratic voters said they were looking for more tangible action on abortion.
“They’re really just searching for reasons to feel some relief that people in power are actually fighting for them,” Aylward said.
In general, Aylward observed that young Democrats are seeking more diversity in their representatives in government.
“Young voters — since we’ve been talking to them even in 2020 — they want to see people running who look like them,” she said.
The Democratic National Committee (DNC) has pointed to several programs geared toward attracting the youth vote ahead of the November midterm elections. The DNC said it launched a “social ambassador program” to train young volunteers on social media and plans to host youth voter training sessions beginning at the end of July, with the inaugural event featuring Warren as a guest speaker. The party apparatus is also organizing on college campuses across battleground states like Pennsylvania, Arizona and Wisconsin.
And the DNC joined TikTok earlier this year in a bid to reach more young voters through new forms of media.
Some say worries about Biden and young voters are overstated and not a sign of disengagement ahead of the midterms.
“His numbers overall are a reflection of the mood of the country, and that can certainly change,” said Democratic strategist Rodell Mollineau, who served as an aide to the late Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). “I think it can and will change.”
A poll by the Institute of Politics at Harvard’s Kennedy School in April concluded that 2022 midterm youth turnout was on track to match the surge in turnout during the 2018 midterms.
“Biden was under the water with young voters in 2020 and we had the highest youth turnout in American history,” said Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez, who serves as the president of the youth mobilization group NextGen America.
But that was a different kind of election, when Democrats were motivated to unseat former President Trump, who like Biden won’t be on the ballot this fall.
“During the election, even if these folks weren’t crazy about Biden, they hated Trump and that was their reason for voting. But it’s different now. They’re hurting financially. They want things to be better,” said one Democratic strategist.
Outside mobilization groups will also be critical in the midterms. Tzintzún Ramirez said that NexGen America is organizing on more than 180 college campuses and running a “micro-influencer program” to leverage young leaders with large platforms to help mobilize the Democratic base.
Some, like Sciales, argue it is critical for Democrats to pass some version of the climate and social policy legislation — formerly known as Build Back Better — that Biden ran on but Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) torpedoed in December. Biden needs each Democratic senator on board with the bill in order to pass it through a process known as budget reconciliation that allows Democrats to bypass the GOP filibuster.
Democrats have revived talks on a scaled-back version of the bill, but Manchin appeared to doom hopes for a breakthrough on Thursday when he told Democratic leaders he would not support new spending on climate initiatives or tax increases in the package.
Biden is also facing a decision on whether to announce more student debt relief, a policy that is popular among voters and on the left. The Institute of Politics poll found that 85 percent of young Americans favor some government action on student loan debt, though only 38 percent approve of complete debt cancellation.
“Young voters are overwhelmingly progressive. They want to see bold structural change on climate change, on the economy and looking at things like canceling student debt, raising the minimum wage and taxing the rich their fair share,” said Tzintzún Ramirez. “And young voters care about racial justice.”
Updated at 7:49 a.m.