10 min read

More Gen Z warning signs for Biden

Young voters are the least enthusiastic faction in Biden’s 2020 coalition, according to a new poll.
More Gen Z warning signs for Biden
Photo by the White House

Good morning! It’s Monday, August 7, 2023. The 2024 elections are 456 days away. If this newsletter was forwarded to you, subscribe here. If you want to contribute to support my work, donate here.

In last Monday’s newsletter, I reported on the critical role that the youth vote is poised to play in 2024, as the electorate grows younger and our nation’s leaders grow older. If you missed it, you can read that piece, “Gen Z and the Gerontocracy,” here.

How members of Gen Z are feeling about politics is one of the topics readers ask me most about, so I hope that piece will serve as just the first in a series of newsletters looking at the Gen Z vote from a variety of angles in the months ahead.

Last week’s piece drew on interviews with a range of young voters to suggest that President Biden, 80, isn’t exactly beloved by the generation of his grandchildren and that he won’t necessarily be able to count on Gen Z to give him the same push across the finish line in 2024 that they gave him in 2020.

This morning, I want to delve into the crosstabs of the recent New York Times/Siena College poll to show that those anecdotes are confirmed by some of the most reliable data we have: Biden’s 2024 hopes, the poll shows, are crashing into a wave of skepticism from younger voters.

That isn’t to say young voters prefer Trump over Biden. Quite the contrary: in a head-to-head race, the Times poll found Biden beating Trump among 18- to 29-year-olds, 47% to 37%.

That 10-point edge led Voters of Tomorrow, the progressive Gen Z group whose summit I covered in last week’s newsletter, to boast that Biden was bathing in support among young voters.

“Today’s national poll makes it clear that Gen Z and young voters across the country are the strongest part of President Biden’s base heading into the 2024 election,” Santiago Mayer, the group’s founder, said in a statement. Indeed, no other age group leaned so strongly towards either candidate (voters aged 30-44 went Biden +3, voters aged 45-65 went Trump +9, and voters 65 and older were Biden +5).

But a presidential election is a game of margins. It isn’t just about winning or losing a certain demographic: often, how much you win or lose them by is more important.

And if you’re wondering why Trump and Biden were tied among all registered voters in the Times poll (43%-43%), how much Biden won the youth vote by is a good place to start. In last week’s newsletter, I introduced a rule of thumb shared by Harvard pollster John Della Volpe: when Democratic presidential candidates receive 60% of the youth vote, they win the White House; when they receive less than 60% of the youth vote, they lose.

That pattern has held up in every election cycle this century. A Democrat needs to sweep the youth vote to win the White House, not just win it. And 47% of the youth vote may be more than Trump got — but it’s less than the 60% that Biden will likely need to win a second term.

If you zoom out to look at all age groups, young voters are the demographic among whom Biden’s support has slipped the most between 2020 (according to exit polls) and now (according to NYT/Siena). The 14-point drop (sketched out below) places Biden’s support among young voters even below the amount Democrats got in 2016, when Hillary Clinton fell short of the 60% benchmark — and lost the presidency.  

Graph by Gabe Fleisher

Biden’s drop in youth support is all the more striking considering, as the Times noted, that other Democratic factions appear to be consolidating around Biden.

Here’s another graph I put together, showing the percentage of Democrats in different demographic groups that believe Biden should be renominated:

Graph by Gabe Fleisher

Less than the specific bars, focus on the broader demographic categories (religion, income, etc). Do you see how, within each category, most of the bars are roughly the same height? By and large, around 40-50% of Democrats want Biden to run again — and this holds true even within categories (gender, race, education) that generally produce sharp differences on political questions.

50% of Democratic men want Biden renominated, and 43% of Democratic women. 50% of white Democrats, and 50% of Black Democrats. 44% of Democratic college graduates, and 47% of those without a college degree. No big divides in any of these often divisive categories.

Except for age. Only 17% of Democrats ages 18 to 29 want Biden renominated, the least of any demographic group across all the categories. On the other end of the spectrum, 70% of Democrats ages 65 and older want a Biden do-over, which towers above any other demographic. On the Biden question, the Democratic Party is more polarized by age than any other factor. And it isn’t even close.

The same phenomenon can be seen when Biden’s primary rivals are brought into the picture:

Graph by Gabe Fleisher

Among Democrats, Biden boasts 90% support in the 65+ demographic, but only 34% from 18- to- 29-year-olds.

Combined, Marianne Williamson and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. have higher support among young Democrats. Notably, the percentage of young Democrats answering “don’t know” is also higher than for any other age group — showing that many young voters aren’t sold on Biden, but they also haven’t ruled him out. A good chunk of them are currently in waiting mode.  

The obvious next question: what does the Times/Siena poll tell us about why young Democrats are so opposed to another Biden nomination? This graph breaks down the reasoning offered by Democrats who don’t want a Biden renomination, and splits up the respondents by age:

Graph by Gabe Fleisher

Yes, Biden’s age is the No. 1 factor for 18- to 29-year-old Democrats who don’t want him renominated. But, notably, that’s true to a lesser degree than it is for older Democrats who want a different nominee, for whom age is by far the top concern.

The young Biden-skeptical Democrats are actually the ones with the most varied reasons behind their hesitancy. They are also the age group who were most likely to name two specific concerns: Biden’s domestic policy (the gray bar, which barely shows up for any other group) and the desire for someone new (which could be a stand-in for age, or could be a signal they don’t care about age in abstract, they’re just done with Biden specifically).

Although age is still a top concern for this slice of young Democrats, a plurality of them cited a different reason to explain their opposition to Biden, which confirms what many young voters told me last week about their thinking. (Note that totals in the above graph don’t add up to 100% because I eliminated some reasons, like electability and mental acuity, that few Biden-skeptical Democrats in any age group cited as a concern.)

Of course, the general election is still a long way out. “This is just a baseline number,” Santiago Mayer, the Voters of Tomorrow founder, emphasized in his statement. “Support from young voters has grown in recent months. We expect that trend to persist as campaigns continue to invest in young people and join us in reaching out to expand the youth electorate everywhere.”

This is also only one poll, and it’s important to remember when analyzing any poll that as you slice into subsets of crosstab data, you’re sometimes working with pretty small sample sizes. But this does happen to be a particularly reliable poll: Times/Siena was the single most accurate pollster in 2022, according to FiveThirtyEight, which also gives them a prestigious A+ rating.

And the Times/Siena poll does align with other surveys, not just on the youth vote, but in its broader finding that 2024 is shaping up to be another razor-thin election.

As CNN’s Harry Enten recently noted, Trump is currently performing better in 2024 general election polls than he did “at any point during the 2020 cycle and almost at any point during the 2016 cycle.”

The four graphs above help explain why. In another question in the poll, only 9% of 18- to- 29-year-old Democrats described themselves as “enthusiastic” about Biden 2024. It’s not unheard of for people to vote for someone they’re not enthusiastic about — and there’s still time for Biden to grow that number — but if he doesn’t, it could be enough to snuff out his dreams of staying in the White House until he’s 86.  

It’s still early, but as more polling comes out, keep an eye trained on the 18-to-29 demographic. It can tell you a heck of a lot about whether the president is poised to recreate his win from 2020 — or whether Trump is poised to recreate his from 2016.

  • WaPo’s Dylan Wells compares the Voters of Tomorrow summit with a competing conservative youth voter event. (Read)
  • Harvard’s John Della Volpe shares polling showing another reason Biden should be worried about Gen Z: young voters are more likely than other age groups to say they’d consider voting for a No Labels candidate or the Green Party’s Cornel West. (Read)
  • Axios’ Josh Kraushaar delves into the NYT/Siena crosstabs on race and finds another notable Biden vulnerability: the president’s support is slipping among working-class Black and Latino voters. (Read)

More news to know.  

The latest in U.S. v. Trump: Federal prosecutors are pushing for a protective order to limit Trump’s ability to speak publicly about evidence shared with his defense team in the January 6th case.

Special Counsel Jack Smith’s team made the request in a Friday night filing, which cited a recent Truth Social post by Trump, “IF YOU GO AFTER ME, I’M COMING AFTER YOU!” (Trump’s campaign says he was referring to political opponents, not potential witnesses.)

Judge Tanya Chutkan, the Obama appointee overseeing the case, then gave Trump’s team until 5 p.m. today to respond to the request. Trump’s lawyers sought an extension until Thursday, which Chutkan denied.

In an all-caps Truth Social post on Sunday, Trump said he will be “immediately asking” for Chutkan’s recusal and for his trial to be moved out of Washington, D.C.

  • Witness list: Former Vice President Mike Pence and former Attorney General Bill Barr both told interviewers on Sunday that they would testify in Trump’s trial if called by prosecutors. (In another Truth post the day before, Trump said that Pence “has gone to the Dark Side.”) At least seven current Trump aides could also be relevant witnesses in his three trials, the Washington Post notes, setting up a potentially awkward situation.
  • Defense plans: Meanwhile, Trump’s lawyer John Lauro debuted a novel defense strategy on “Meet the Press”: “A technical violation of the Constitution is not a violation of criminal law,” he argued. (One of the statutes Trump is charged under specifically criminalizes conspiring to take away someone else’s constitutional rights, such as their right to have their vote counted.) Lauro also argued that Trump didn’t pressure Pence to throw out electoral votes, he merely “asked him in an aspirational way.”
  • One to watch: Former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows was a key figure in the post-election period but is barely mentioned in Trump’s latest indictment. The Wall Street Journal asks if his absence suggests that he cut a cooperating deal with the DOJ — or if he’ll be next to receive charges.

Is woke working?: The NYT/Siena poll also shows that the crusade against “wokeness” is losing purchase among Republican voters, the New York Times writes, another possible reason that Ron DeSantis’ campaign is flaming out. Several DeSantis aides anonymously told Bloomberg that their campaign “lacks a coherent strategy and message.”

Missing brass: The Army chief of staff retired on Friday, leaving two of the eight seats on the Pentagon’s Joint Chiefs of Staff vacant for the first time in U.S. history. Confirmation of the new Army and Marine Corps leaders are both being held up by Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-AL).

The day ahead.

At the White House: President Biden will return to Washington after spending a week in Delaware. He will hold an event celebrating the Houston Astros, the 2022 World Series champions, before traveling to Arizona, where he will kick off a three-day Western swing.

First Lady Biden will participate in a White House summit on cybersecurity at K-12 schools. VP Harris has nothing on her public schedule.

On the campaign trail: NBC News will air an interview with Ron DeSantis, the Florida governor’s latest venture outside of the conservative media bubble as he seeks to reset his campaign.

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— Gabe