Slipping with young voters, Biden struggles recreate 2020 magic

President Biden and Democrats are losing their grip on young voters.

Millennial and Gen Z voters who were monumental in helping to give former President Trump the heave-ho and give Mr. Biden’s party total control of Washington are losing faith in Democrats’ performance after less than two years, according to a series of polls. The surveys suggest that young voters want more action on their pet issues, including climate change, gun violence and student loans.

“I guess I am really not surprised — especially by the drop off of excitement after 2020,” said Christine Sinicki, chair of the Milwaukee Democrats. “Democrats were running last time against basically Public Enemy No. 1 in Donald Trump.”

“I think 2020 was an unprecedented year,” she said. “It was lots of excitement, and now that excitement has waned and we are developing plans to engage more of our young people.”

It is a tenuous situation for Democrats, who have less than seven months to figure out how to re-energize voters born roughly between 1981 and 2012, without Mr. Trump in office.

Historic turnout among young voters was key to flipping the Senate and White House in 2020, and to wresting control of the House in 2018.

Mr. Biden won 65% of 18 to 24-year-olds, and 60% of 18 to 29-year-olds and, according to 2020 exit polls, on his way to becoming the oldest person to assume the presidency.

That support is eroding.

A Quinnipiac University poll released last week showed Mr. Biden had a negative rating of 21% approval to 58% disapproval on his job performance among 18 to 34-year-olds.

“This is a big drop from a year ago when he had a positive 48 – 42 percent job approval among 18 – 34-year-olds,” said Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll. “No doubt he is losing ground with younger voters.”

A Gallup survey released last week also painted a grim picture:  Mr. Biden’s approval rating has dropped 20 percentage points among Gen Z and millennial votes since the beginning of 2021.

“As a result, older Americans are now more likely to approve of the president than younger Americans are,” the Gallup poll analysis said.

It remains to be seen whether these disillusioned young voters will give the GOP a serious look, or simply sit out the election if Democrats fail to pull them back.

What is clear is that more of those voters are not locked down heading into the midterms.

“There are more younger people in play than there were in the last two cycles,” John Della Volpe, director of the Harvard University’s Institute of Politics Youth Poll and advisor to the Biden 2020 campaign, told Politico earlier this year. “Democrats need to persuade them and mobilize them. That is the new reality.”

That reality is shaping Mr. Biden’s approach. He is leaning more and more on executive orders in an attempt to show he is fighting for the disgruntled youth.

This includes his push to address inequality in the federal government, as well as his recent extension of a moratorium on student loans and flirtation with eliminating some level of student debt.

Ms. Sinicki, who is also a member of the Wisconsin State Assembly, said addressing student debt in such a way would “absolutely” inspire young voters.

“I think student debt is one of the top issues – especially for our young people and our young families,” she said. “That would be a turning point.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said last week that Mr. Biden’s use of executive action to cancel some federal student loan debt is “still on the table,” with a decision expected in the months ahead.

It is not the first time Mr. Biden has had to smooth things out with young voters.

Mr. Biden had to build trust with these voters — many of whom had backed democratic socialist Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont — in the 2020 primary election.

Dogged by questions about his age and a decades-long record in the Senate that was out of sync at times with the base of the party, Mr. Biden told the nation’s youth, “I hear you.”

Mr. Biden said he shared their values on health care, income inequality, and climate change.

Mr. Volpe, author of “Fight: How Gen Z is Channeling their Fear and Passion to Save America,” said the message worked because, as he sees it, the first step to courting young voters is to build the case that the government can make a difference in people’s lives.

“Then after you make that case, then you have to make the case, whichever candidate you are, that you are the person who can make that change,” Mr. Volpe said at a recent forum at The Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas.

Since taking office, Mr. Biden and Democrats have struggled to deliver on key parts of their agenda, thwarted by the inability to keep all their members on the same page, and by the 60-vote legislative filibuster in the Senate. Democrats have been unable to move forward with a partisan voting-rights bill and with Mr. Biden’s $1.75 trillion social-welfare package.

Mr. Biden also has faced a barrage of questions over whether he is mentally fit for the job — as evidenced by far-right commentators mocking him last week for appearing to shake hands with thin air after a speech in North Carolina.

The idea that Democrats have become a bit dated also surfaced in recent reports questioning whether Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, 88, was too old to do her job, and lingering speculation over whether House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, 82, would fulfill her promise to give up the gavel if Democrats shock the political world by holding the House in November.

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