President Biden faces a catastrophe with young voters, fueling fears among Democrats that they risk losing a generation unless he improves his standing with Gen Z.
Biden’s approval rating has fallen across the board among Democrats, but numbers are skyrocketing among those under 30.
A poll this week by the New York Times and Siena College found that 94 percent of Democratic primary voters ages 18 to 29 said the party should nominate someone other than Biden in 2024.
Biden, 79, was never the nominee for younger Democrats, though they rallied to help him win the White House in 2020 when the president endorsed key progressive policy initiatives to tackle climate change and other issues.
Now the polls are suggesting they could fail him amid frustration at Washington’s lack of progress on everything from climate change to abortion rights.
“A lot of the young people I’m speaking to right now are wondering what the point of a democratic trifecta is when our rights are still being ripped away,” said Ellen Sciales, communications director for youth climate activist group the Sunrise Movement.
“For example, what is the point of voting? And of course we’re pushing people to vote, but that’s going to make it so much harder for us to do our job,” she said.
Biden received high marks from young voters early in his presidency. However, a Gallup poll released in April found that Biden’s approval rating among Generation Z Americans – those born between 1997 and 2004 – had fallen by 21 percentage points and among Millennials – those born between 1981 and 1996 – by 19 percentage points during his presidency and in the last March.
A big focus when it comes to Biden and young voters is the president’s age. He would be 81 at the start of a second term if re-elected.
Yet Biden’s job performance, not his age, is the dominant issue prompting young Democrats to favor anyone other than Biden in 2024, according to the New York Times-Siena College poll.
Young Democrats in the poll were least likely to cite Biden’s age as the primary reason for wanting children.
“I think it’s more about issues 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 with many young Democratic voters in 2020.
“Remember when you love [the late Sen.] Robert Byrd when he was against the war was hot? And Bernie is obviously not a jumping chicken. But young people are struggling with the same general economic problems as everyone else, but worse for them because they have no savings, no home, no job stability, etc.,” Vale said.
He and others argue that Biden could improve his standing among younger Americans by following the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade is taking more concrete steps to protect access to abortion.
Biden last week announced an executive order designed to protect access to abortion drugs, contraception and emergency care, and protect women who travel abroad for an abortion from legal proceedings.
Ashley Aylward, a research manager at opinion firm HIT Strategies, said she conducted a focus group last week – ahead of Biden’s order – in which young Democratic voters said they were looking for more specific abortion measures.
“They’re really just looking for reasons to feel relieved that those in power are actually fighting for them,” Aylward said.
In general, Aylward observed that young Democrats are seeking more diversity among their representatives in government.
“Young voters — as we spoke to them even in 2020 — want to see people who look like them run,” she said.
The Democratic National Committee (DNC) has pointed to several programs aimed at winning over youth ahead of November’s midterm elections. The DNC said it has launched a “social ambassador program” to train young volunteers on social media and plans to hold training courses for youth voters beginning in late July, with Warren as a guest speaker at the launch event. The party machinery is also organizing on college campuses in battleground states like Pennsylvania, Arizona and Wisconsin.
And the DNC joined TikTok earlier this year to reach more young voters through new forms of media.
Some say concerns about Biden and young voters are overdone and are not a sign of retreat ahead of the midterm elections.
“His numbers as a whole reflect the mood of the country, and that can certainly change,” said Democratic strategist Rodell Mollineau, who served as an adviser to the late Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). “I think it can and will change.”
A survey by the Institute of Politics at Harvard’s Kennedy School in April concluded that voter turnout for the 2022 midterms is on track to match the increase in voter turnout during the 2018 midterms.
“Biden was underwater with young voters in 2020 and we had the highest youth voter turnout in American history,” said Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez, who serves as president of youth mobilization group NextGen America.
But that was a different kind of election, as Democrats were motivated to unseat former President Trump, who, like Biden, will not stand for election this fall.
“Even though these people weren’t crazy about Biden during the election, they hated Trump and that was their reason for voting. But now it’s different. You suffer financially. They want things to get better,” said one Democratic strategist.
External mobilization groups will also be crucial in the medium term. Tzintzún Ramirez said NexGen America is organizing on more than 180 college campuses and running a “micro-influencer program” to leverage young leaders with large platforms to mobilize the Democratic base.
Some, like Sciales, argue that it’s crucial for Democrats to pass a version of climate and social policy legislation — formerly known as Build Back Better — that Biden carried on, but Senator Joe Manchin (DW.Va.) torpedoed in December. Biden needs every Democratic senator on board the bill to guide it through a process known as the budget vote, which allows Democrats to bypass the GOP filibuster.
Democrats have revived talks over a slimmed-down version of the bill, but Manchin appeared to have dashed hopes of 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 also faces a decision on whether to announce more student debt relief, a policy popular with voters and the left. The Institute of Politics poll found that 85 percent of young Americans support government action on student loans, although only 38 percent support full debt cancellation.
“Young voters are overwhelmingly progressive. They want to see bold structural change on climate change, the economy and things like canceling student debt, raising the minimum wage and taxing the rich with their fair share,” Tzintzún Ramirez said. “And young voters care about racial justice.”
Updated at 7:49 am