It is no secret that President Joe Biden’s poll numbers are tanking. But the latest polls show that his approval rating is sinking like a stone among a key demographic for his party – young voters – which can spell major trouble for the Dems in the midterms.
This drop in support by 30 and under voters comes at a uniquely perilous moment for the party. Democrats have faced brutal midterm climates and slim margins in Congress before. But the current iteration of the Democratic Party has rarely, if ever, been on such shaky ground with young people.
Earlier this year, approval for President Joe Biden among people aged 18-30 hit depths no Democratic president had plumbed in decades: the mid-to-low-30s in Gallup and other polls. Barack Obama never dropped below 42 percent among that group in Gallup’s surveys. In some cases, the swing against Biden in 2021 totaled anywhere from 20 to 30 percentage points.
An alienated youth vote is an existential threat for Democrats in 2022; they backed Biden by a 25-point margin in 2020, voting at all-time highs.
Biden’s yo-yoing numbers with young people “should concern everyone,” said John Walsh, Sen. Ed Markey’s chief of staff, who managed the Massachusetts Democrat’s successful primary campaign in 2020, which drew unusually high support among young voters for a 75-year-old senator. “Government is not acting with the urgency this moment demands, and they’re frustrated, pissed off.”
“I worry that some people are not listening to John [and his message],” Walsh added.
A warning sign about young people’s political enthusiasm came out of Virginia’s governor’s race last year. TargetSmart, a Democratic data firm, found turnout among 18- to 29-year-olds dropped by just over a half a percentage point compared to the last gubernatorial election, even though Virginia worked aggressively in the last two years to expand access to the ballot.
Terrance Woodbury, another Democratic pollster, also stressed that he’s “not optimistic” about young people’s participation in the midterms, noting that Virginia’s electorate in 2021 was “11 percent older and 7 percent whiter” than in 2020.
“The key question we’re facing is if youth turnout in 2020 was driven more by opposition to Trump than strong enthusiasm for Biden,” said Tom Bonier, TargetSmart’s CEO.
If the Dems want to recapture youth enthusiasm, they have to run on something more than “we are not Trump.”
NextGen America’s president, Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez, said, “young people want to see action, and that’s why we’re yelling as loud as we can, ‘please take action on student debt,’ because this is within the power of the Biden administration.” Last week, the Biden administration announced another four-month extension of the pause on monthly loan payments and interest.
“It’s been over a year of a Democratic trifecta, and young people are really disappointed because not much has been accomplished around student debt or on ambitious climate goals,” said Ellen Sciales, a press secretary for the Sunrise Movement. “People are losing hope.”
In 2020 the oldest presidential nominee in history achieved historic support from young people in the general election.
But now, after two years of stalled agenda items important to young people, Democrats are worried “about where young people are in terms of not feeling engaged or motivated right now,” said Ben Tulchin, a Democratic pollster whose clients include Sanders and New York City Mayor Eric Adams.
“You have to give them a reason to show up now,” Tulchin said.