A truism in politics over the last 40 years is “Don’t rely on the youth vote to win elections”.
That might be more true in 2020 than ever.
Have you heard that voters 18-29 prefer Joe Biden over Pres. Trump somewhere in the 65-35% range?
And young voters claim they are “very likely” to vote in higher numbers than in the past?
But the truth is that young voters – every generation – have a poor track record on following through with those stated intentions on election day. Only the Obama campaign of 2008 turned enthusiasm in young voters into a movement of votes at the ballot box.
A problem facing the Biden campaign is not the polling which shows his solid lead among young voters, it is on the issue of whether those voters see him as a candidate they really want to support in 2020.
One anecdotal experience I have from talking with younger voters is the “longer” view they have with elections and the lack of true insight they have on how a single election cycle can change the course of politics and government. The election of Ronald Reagan was one, as was the election of Barack Obama. But for the young voters I’ve spoken with, for whom the government isn’t a big intrusion into their lives in terms of their employment or paying taxes, the election of 2020 is just that — one election that will be repeated again in four years’ time.
The election of Pres. Trump stands to be extremely consequential if there is a re-election of Donald Trump. His Administration has had to sail into the teeth of a hurricane of opposition over the first four years, and if he’s re-elected most of that opposition will be swept aside.
But young voters don’t necessarily understand that. For them, there is another Presidential election in 4 years, and it won’t involve two candidates in their mid-70s.
Barack Obama was 47 when he won in 2008 – nearly 30 years younger than Joe Biden. Joe Biden doesn’t reflect them or their generation. They supported the far more liberal/radical candidates in the primaries who dropped out, and Joe Biden is the representative of the “establishment” that they are anxious to replace.
There is some cause for concern in polling of younger voters, as this story from Real Clear Politics reveals.
[T]the fall youth poll from Harvard’s Institute of Politics finds a significant enthusiasm gap between the candidates: 56% of America’s 18-to-29-year-old likely voters who support Trump are “very enthusiastic” about voting for him. This stands in stark contrast to just 35% of likely voters who back Biden.
This is important to keep in mind when you see polls reflecting “enthusiasm” among young voters as a whole — which is said to be very high in some polling. The number is not necessarily the same for each voter, and Joe Biden was not the first choice for most of the young voters who claim they support him in the election.
And the “creepy Uncle Joe” meme likely strikes close to home much more with younger voters than with older voters, as is also noted in the Real Clear Politics article:
[A]s the American Enterprise Institute’s … survey reveals, just 7% of Gen Zers have a very favorable view of Biden while another 40% have a favorable view – making for a 47% overall favorability rating… My students regularly share the fact that they have trouble getting behind Biden given his history of inappropriately touching women and his less than consistent left-of-center positions. This fact, along with the Harvard enthusiasm data, again suggests that the drive to vote for Biden may indeed be lower than many narratives assert; candidates need to inspire voters to drive turnout.
The author teaches at Sarah Lawrence College, not a hotbed of conservatism in the student body. But today’s younger generations are much more sensitive to inappropriate touching and invasion of “personal space,” and that seems to be part of Joe Biden’s persona he can’t leave behind.
Finally, one extraordinarily under-reported aspect of the campaign is the lack of a coordinated ground game by the Biden campaign. Pres. Obama set the modern standard for grassroots-level organizing to drive turnout on election day. The Clinton campaign used its three decades of institutional experience in managing a national campaign to organize its election day operations. There is almost no reporting on the organizational efforts of the Biden Campaign or the DNC on Joe Biden’s behalf. Instead, there seem to be whispers in the press of concern about the lack of any such centralized effort.
Here is an example of the concern from an article in Time two weeks ago — and Michigan is typical of the Biden campaign:
The reason Sabbe can’t find a dedicated Biden campaign field office is because there aren’t any around here. Not in Macomb County, the swing region where Sabbe lives. It’s not even clear Biden has opened any new dedicated field offices in the state; because of the pandemic, they’ve moved their field organizing effort online. The Biden campaign in Michigan refused to confirm the location of any physical field offices despite repeated requests; they say they have “supply centers” for handing out signs, but would not confirm those locations. The campaign also declined to say how many of their Michigan staff were physically located here. Biden’s field operation in this all-important state is being run through the Michigan Democratic Party’s One Campaign, which is also not doing physical canvassing or events at the moment. When I ask Biden campaign staffers and Democratic Party officials how many people they have on the ground in Michigan, one reply stuck out: “What do you mean by ‘on the ground?’”
This is one of the reasons why there are not big campaign events taking place — even in states without significant “lock-down” orders in place. The Biden campaign doesn’t have operatives on the ground in those states to organize such events.
It is true that younger voters are online much more than their parents and grandparents are. And organizing at that level is now a “given” in modern politics. So there is certainly outreach taking place there.
But it is hard to generate images of enthusiasm among the faithful in the final days of the campaign through Twitter and Instagram.
The problem with the missing youth vote that fails to materialize at the polls on election day is that you don’t know it has happened until it is too late to fix it.