The old problem with young people: Biden courts the elusive electoral bloc
President Biden is aggressively pursuing young voters, tackling issues of reproductive rights and student loan forgiveness in a bid to drive a bloc that traditionally sees lower turnout to the polls.
“Historically, we’ve had a problem with young voters dropping off mid-term,” said Democratic strategist Rodell Mollineau, who served as an aide to the late Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev .).
“Yes, it may be about his legacy and his position and his positioning for 2024, but the main beneficiaries right now are the candidates in tight races who will need every vote, and that means forming youth.”
Biden took a victory lap Friday on his student loan forgiveness plan after applications officially opened on Monday with 22 million Americans apply to date. He told a Delaware State University group, “I will never apologize for helping working-class and middle-class Americans.”
Earlier this week, the president focused on reproductive rights issues, pledging at the Howard Theater in Washington to make a bill to codify abortion access his top legislative priority if Democrats keep their majority in Congress.
By focusing on these issues, “it appeals to a significant portion of the voting population,” said Nayerra Haq, who served as a civil servant in the Obama administration. “Any politician who wants to win over or serve the public needs to realize that’s the demographic they need to address.”
Haq said millennials are the first generation “who won’t be able to grow beyond their parents because of the flaws in our economic system.”
“It requires systemic solutions, and that’s what Biden is doing,” she added.
Young people generally do not show up in large numbers in midterm elections. In 2018, only 36% of 18-29 year olds voted, still a huge improvement from the 20% turnout in 2014, according to the US Census Bureau.
With three weeks to go before the midterm elections, the administration opened applications for its student loan proposal, which would forgive up to $10,000 in federal debt for borrowers earning less than $125,000 and up to $20 $000 for borrowers who received Pell Grants.
The plan was the subject of several lawsuits, and on Friday a federal appeals court ruled that it should be temporarily put on hold while a GOP challenge is playing.
Steve Schale, the prominent political strategist who led former President Obama’s campaign operation in Florida in 2008, called Biden’s efforts a “big deal”.
“Student loan debt is a significant problem among young people,” Schale said. “He speaks to part of the electorate.”
Biden has also spoken more often about his marijuana policies, telling the audience at Delaware State University and the Howard Theater this week that he is keeping his promise that no one should be in jail for using or possessing marijuana.
Democrats applaud Biden’s focus on marijuana and child care issues, both of which are important to young voters.
“Now he can deliver those big items needed for generational change,” Haq said, referring to the two issues.
Biden has focused much of his attention on the economy, which has consistently been seen as the most important issue among voters this cycle. Amid inflation and high gas prices, the president has been tasked for months with trying to prove to Americans that he cares about costs and is working to bring them down.
But new poll this week showed that 63 percent of Americans still want Biden to pay more attention to their top issues, with inflation topping the list. Other major issues include immigration and crime, two areas where Republicans have criticized Democrats.
The focus on young people also comes as support for Democratic candidates among independent voters appears to be declining.
Independent women, who are a key electoral bloc this cycle following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, are leaning more toward Republicans recently. A poll released on Monday showed the bloc favoring Republicans by 18 points, a huge increase since September.
The Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the White House did not respond to The Hill’s request for comment on when the president has recently focused on issues that appeal to young people.
“Biden’s strategy appears to be two-fold, highlight grassroots initiatives with young voters for the midterm elections and solidify support from young voters going forward. It makes a clear distinction between Democratic and GOP principles that it hopes will improve Dem turnout in 2022 and beyond,” said former Rep. Chris Carney (D-Pa.), A Biden ally.
“Reproductive rights and student loan forgiveness are sounding good among young voters, and Biden sees these issues bringing new, traditionally less engaged midterm voters to the polls in November,” Carney added.
While younger voters helped catapult Biden to the White House in 2020, his numbers with demographics have plummeted during his presidency. An NPR-PBS Newshour poll in July showed just 5% of voters under 45 strongly approved of Biden’s performance.
Strategists attribute the problem in part to a generational gap between Biden and demographics. But at the same time, as one progressive strategist pointed out, “Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren never had this problem.”
“They were both very aware of the needs of these young voters,” the strategist said. “I actually think Bernie was boosted by that demographic.”
Xochitl Hinojosa, a former director of communications at the DNC, argued that issues such as student loans and abortion go beyond young people and speak to voters of all ages.
“The president has been laser-focused on issues that matter to voters, and yes, those include gas prices and student loans, and reproductive rights. Many of these issues target not just young voters, but the broader electorate,” Hinojosa said. “Americans want to hear directly from their president about how he’s going to tackle the issues facing our nation, and that’s exactly what he’s doing.”
As the president reaches out to younger voters, so do other Democrats.
New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, herself a millennial, gathers students from the University of California, Irvine on Sunday. Meanwhile, Sanders is using his star power with young people to help Democrats in Nevada, Florida, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, heading to those Senate battleground states ahead of Election Day.
“You build a coalition,” Schale said, adding that “our coalition needs young voters to win.”
The president dipped deeper into his support for abortion access this week when he said in an interview that he would support a federal fund to help patients pay for the procedure, reaffirming his position against the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal funds from being used to pay for abortions.
His support for federal funding follows months of backlash over whether the White House has done enough in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling. When Roe was first unseated in June, the president faced heavy criticism for moving too slowly on actions to protect access.
But the White House has seen some success since then, particularly with legislation passed over the summer.
Schale said Biden had a lot to brag about in the final weeks of the campaign trail.
“…If I’ve had one criticism of the administration, it’s that we haven’t done a good job of telling success stories, and yes, they should look into it,” he said. declared. “Our coalition needs young voters to win. … We should go tell the story. We have a good story and I’m glad they are.