Democrats are raising concerns that President Biden’s standing among young voters is in jeopardy after polling released this week showed Biden effectively tied with former President Trump among young voters.
A New York Times/Siena College survey released Monday showed Biden virtually tied with Trump among voters younger than 30, with 30 percent backing Biden and 29 percent backing Trump. Thirty-four percent said they backed independent candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
Meanwhile, an Emerson College poll released last month found 45 percent of voters younger than 30 backing Trump, while 43 percent said they supported Biden.
The latest data is surprising, given Biden’s victory over Trump among young voters in 2020. According to AP VoteCast, Biden won 61 percent of voters between the ages of 18 and 29.
“Young people as we know have always been fiercely independent,” said John Della Volpe, director of polling at the Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics. “It’s a more cynical electorate with God knows how many more independent candidacies, which on the youth cohort are more likely to hurt Biden more than Trump.”
The polling comes as Biden has faced backlash among young voters and activists for his handling of the Israel-Hamas war.
Earlier this week, several progressive groups, including March for Our Lives, GenZ For Change, and the Sunrise Movement, penned an open letter to Biden, warning his handling of the Israel-Hamas War could depress turnout among Millennial and Generation Z voters come next year.
“We write to you to issue a very stark and unmistakable warning: you and your Administration’s stance on Gaza risks millions of young voters staying home or voting third party next year,” the letter read.
Progressive Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) reiterated the same sentiment in an interview on CNN.
“The primary concern for everybody is the status of Palestinians and the human rights, as well as Israelis too, the safety in the region,” Ocasio-Cortez told the network. “So I try not to look at this through an electoral lens but through what the right thing to do is. But I think it’s certainly something that is, that should be top of mind when it comes to the Democratic coalition.”
When asked about the latest polling showing Biden seemingly in a slump with young voters, however, Democrats point to what they see as the pivotal role young voters played in Tuesday’s off-year elections.
“If you want to see how people are going to vote, look at how they are voting,” said Jack Lobel, spokesperson for the Gen Z group Voters of Tomorrow. “On Tuesday, we saw young voters turn out in Virginia and in Ohio and in Kentucky and vote for President Biden’s ideology.”
Democrats also say polls and predictions have missed the mark on young voter turnout in the past.
“The polls for the last several years on young voters have missed the mark every single time. We just had an election, and we were told right before the election that young people were probably not going to vote as overwhelmingly Democratic or turn out at the rates they did,” said Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez, president of the youth voting organization NextGen America.
“We’re not riding the pollercoaster,” she continued. “We’re doing the hard organizing work to make sure that young voters turnout and young voters are overwhelmingly progressive.”
“I don’t think this poll is reflective of the political reality that has played out every single election post-2016,” she added.
Ramirez pointed to top motivators for young Democratic-leaning voters, including climate change, student debt relief and a Trump candidacy.
“In 2020, Joe Biden was not the youth vote candidate, it’s true,” she said. “But what we saw is that young people did turn out and vote for him overwhelmingly, and they did it also in repudiation of Donald Trump and also for progressive policy.”
And Democrats are quick to note the recent poll numbers are not about Trump gaining ground with young voters, but rather Biden losing ground.
“I think it’s that Biden has taken a big hit with younger voters and is just not top of mind and I think that there is a restlessness that’s sort of playing. But I do not think that this is a move toward Trump by young voters by any stretch of the imagination,” said Jon Reinish, a Democratic strategist.
Reinish predicted young voters will ultimately choose Biden over Trump again, assuming Trump gets the nomination, pointing to their stances on climate change, abortion and democracy.
Della Volpe said it was critical for the Biden administration and campaign to continue to communicate their stances and accomplishments on these issues in an effort to win young voters over.
“It’s going to be important for members of the Biden-Harris team to constantly communicate the positive change in the country based upon youth participation,” he said, citing issues like climate investments, diversity in government and bipartisan gun legislation.
Still, Biden has faced questions over his age and whether that will ultimately be a factor in voter enthusiasm for his campaign.
An AP-NORC poll released in August found that 77 percent of voters younger than 45 said they thought Biden was too old to serve as president effectively. Among Democrats aged 18 to 29 years old, 76 percent said they believed Biden was too old to run for president.
However, Democratic activists argued it is Biden’s ideology rather than age that will be the biggest factor.
“President Biden being 80 years old does not matter to me how I live my life,” said Lobel, who is 19 and voting in his first presidential election next year. “Him investing in my education, in my future as a person who’s going to inherit this world, this economy, this climate, this matters to me.”
“As a 19-year-old, these are the numbers I care about, not his age,” he said.