President Joe Biden and young voters have always had a marriage of convenience. While they turned out in record numbers to vote against Donald Trump in 2020, the youngest generations have soured on Biden and lost faith in his agenda.
Biden’s approval rating with voters under 30 has dropped 23 points since the first months of his presidency, according to Gallup polling. It’s fallen 17 points with voters between 30 and 50. Only 34% of Millennials and Gen Z voters say they approve of Biden’s presidency so far, according to a Marist poll sponsored by NPR and PBS, and only 2% say they strongly approve.
The trend could spell trouble for Democrats in the midterms. Young voters are crucial to the party’s coalition, boosting Democrats with record turnout in the 2018 and 2020 elections. Yet many young people feel the Biden Administration has failed to deliver on its promises as the President’s domestic agenda stalls. The progressive policy wish list items that drew many young people into politics remains undelivered. “I do think the Build Back Better fight was really demoralizing for youth voters obviously,” says McKenzie Wilson, communications director for progressive data firm Data for Progress. “It’s just been a really bad couple of years.”
The result is growing levels of disengagement. According to the Harvard Institute of Politics youth poll, released in April, roughly 36% of Americans under 30 believe politics “rarely has tangible results,” up from 22% in 2018. More than 40% believe their “vote doesn’t make a difference,” up from 31%. And more than half of young voters (56%) believe the political system is “no longer able to face the challenges” facing the country, up from 45% just before the last midterm. Only 41% of these voters approve of Biden’s job performance, down 18 points from last year, according to the Harvard poll.
It’s not clear, however, that this disillusionment will necessarily hurt Democrats in November. The Harvard poll found that number of young people who say they will “definitely” vote in the midterms is roughly equivalent to what it was ahead of the record-breaking 2018 youth turnout.
“What makes this generation different is that those negative attitudes about the efficacy of government are not correlated to turnout or likelihood to vote as they have been in the past,” says John Della Volpe, the director of polling for Harvard’s IOP, who worked as a pollster for Biden in 2020. “They have a pragmatism because of the urgency of these issues.”
“People complain about government, they complain about Biden, they complain about student loans,” Della Volpe continues. “I say, ‘Are you gonna vote?’ They say, ‘Absolutely, I’m gonna vote.'”
Recent events might also counter the sinking engagement of young voters. According to a recent poll from Data for Progress, 62% of voters under 45 said the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v Wade has made them more likely to vote in November. A Marist poll in late June found a similar margin for Gen Z and millennial voters. And the ongoing revelations about Trump’s connection to the Jan. 6 insurrection may deter young voters who are disappointed in what the Democrats have delivered from switching sides.
“Biden wasn’t the 2020 youth candidate. The youth candidate was Bernie Sanders, but it felt like fascism was on the ballot,” says Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez, president of NextGen America, a progressive advocacy group. “And it feels like, for many young people, that fascism is on the ballot again in 2022.”
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