The silver lining on young voters: Despite Biden fatigue, they’re voting and they get the stakes

It’s no secret that young progressives are one of the most consequential and unpredictable voting blocs in next year’s general election. They despise Donald Trump but are undeniably uninspired by President Joe Biden.

While foreign policy isn’t helping Biden, domestic policy looms large, with young voters being far and away the most disenchanted cohort when it comes to the economy.

Recent New York Times/Siena battleground-state polling found that just 11% of voters ages 18 to 29 rate the economy as “excellent” or “good,” while 62% of those 65 and older hold that view.

Young voters’ economic disenchantment is also evident in Civiqs tracking of the issue, with just 23% of voters 18 to 34 calling the current condition of the economy good, while 71% say it’s bad, for a net -48 percentage points.

Needless to say, the data poses a challenge to Biden’s reelection campaign. Even though Generation Z voters lean heavily Democratic, they simply aren’t that enthused about voting for Biden next year—for a host of reasons. The dynamic leads to nagging questions about turnout, whether some young voters might be lured away by third-party candidates, and if Team Biden can do anything to close the enthusiasm gap.  

That’s the bad news.

The good news is that there’s still reason for cautious optimism. Sarah Longwell talked to Gen Z voters in the latest episode of her podcast, “The Focus Group,” and they weren’t tuning out politics even as they expressed frustration over their national choices.

By and large, young voters framed the presidential contest as an option between “the lesser of two evils.” But they also seemed very aware of the stakes next year, and some even addressed the lure of third-party candidates.

First, several quotes on flagging enthusiasm for Biden:

  • One man said, “It’s just not exciting” to vote for Biden. “Biden’s fine, Trump sucks,” he said, adding of Biden, “He’s fine, he’s old, I worry about him.”

  • One woman said Biden has been “actively put in the media” to look old and senile. “So we don’t want to vote for him, nobody wants to vote for him now, and there is no other option. So yes, we will vote for him because we do not like Trump … and the last four years, truthfully, were not that bad.”

  • Another woman said, “I’m pretty unmotivated to vote, but I’m still going to vote because I’m going to act on that right.” Though she wished there were more “fresher and younger faces,” she added, “I’m still just going to vote for Biden because I still believe it’s the lesser of two evils.”

Summing up the progressives in the group, Longwell said, “They did all say they were going to vote, and they did all say they were going to vote for Biden.”

So amid all the talk of flagging enthusiasm among young liberals, those quotes weren’t terrible.

But the commentary got even more encouraging when Gen Zers began talking about local issues unprompted.

  • One woman said, “I think I may only be voting for kind of the other things that are on the ballot, and trying to get representatives that represent my values because I don’t think the president is going to be able to do that.”

  • Another woman explained, “I’ve had people tell me: I’m going to do third party, I’m going to do independent, and I’m like, ‘God no, please don’t’—any vote that’s for Trump, any vote that’s independent, like, it screws us.” She added, “I think a lot of the stuff we’ve seen the past four years, a lot of it is state individual—a lot of that is how we voted locally.”

  • Another woman expressed frustration over not being able to affect the national elections in contrast to local races. “It does feel frustrating to be in a state where, like, it doesn’t really matter what I vote for in the presidential elections—it’s more for the local elections,” she said.

On the podcast, Longwell remarked that “selling them on local elections … went blaring red” for her. “Actually, don’t talk about Joe Biden, talk about the lunatic Republican who’s running in the local race,” she explained. “Just get them to the polls on anything local.”

Longwell’s guest on the podcast, Peter Hamby, a political journalist and partner at Puck News, said he found “notes of optimism” for Biden in the commentary.

“Gen Z really cares more about local stuff than we give them credit for,” Hamby said.

In terms of candidates running for local races like dogcatcher or school board, Hamby said, “They are Gen Z, they are millennials, and so people want to vote for candidates who look like them, who talk like them, who are younger and more diverse.”

So to young voters, Hamby added, “The bench on the local level is way more diverse and perhaps compelling.”

The takeaway from the podcast: Young voters may not be excited about the presidential contest, but they’re still politically engaged and finding other reasons to get to the polls in 2024.

Plus, by and large, they hate Trump.

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