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They were children when Trump was president. Now young voters hold Biden’s fate

COLLEGE PARK, MARYLAND — Ben Mason, a freshman studying aerospace engineering at the University of Maryland, admits he was too young to remember former President Donald Trump’s first term in detail.

“I guess I wouldn’t say I was old enough or aware enough of the world to actually remember what happened,” said Mason, who is 19 years old and plans on voting for the first time in November. 

“That happened when I was in middle school, so I would definitely have to go back and revisit everything, just to see what I actually remember, what I need to re-learn,” he added.

The Kansas City native said some of the gaps in his memory may have to do with the fact that his parents attempted to shield him from events that happened during the Trump years.

“To an extent they tried to protect me — but I think if I went to go look for that information, they weren’t going to tell me I couldn’t or anything,” he said.  “I definitely lean more liberally, so I would say Joe Biden is the better option. But, I would prefer there’d be a better third option.”

Credit: Washington Examiner

Mason is one of the nearly 4.2 million newly eligible voters this year, who were in middle school when Trump was first elected. Roughly 41 million Gen Z Americans — ages 18 to 27 — will be eligible to vote this year, according to Tufts University. 

Young voters helped deliver Joe Biden his first White House victory in 2020, winning 61% of voters under 30 and 55% between 30 and 44, according to the AP VoteCast survey of the electorate. In 2016, young voters ultimately helped Trump win by either choosing a third-party candidate or deciding to stay home. Experts believe this critical group of voters will ultimately decide the 2024 presidential race. 

Ella Murray, a freshman studying biology, said she hasn’t decided which candidate to support. She admits she doesn’t have many memories of what life was like when Trump was president.  

“I was 13, so I wasn’t super involved in politics at that age,” Murray said, on her way to a final exam on campus. “I think re-educating myself would be a good bet.” 

Polling shows warning signs for Biden with young voters

Recent polling data suggests Biden’s approval rating has taken a hit among young Americans and there are warning signs Trump could be making inroads with this critical electorate, who may have been too young to remember his presidency. 

While the majority of surveys show Biden leading among young voters, many of them show he’s leading with the demographic by less than he did back in 2020. There are a couple exceptions, like the NPR/PBS Newshour/Marist poll last month that showed Trump two points ahead of Biden among millennial and Gen-Z voters. A couple of months earlier, a Fox News poll found Trump was leading with Biden among voters under 30 by 18 points. A Reuters/Ipsos poll in March found voters 18-29 years old preferred Biden over Trump by just 3 percentage points, 29% to 26%. 

There’s plenty of evidence to show young voters are disillusioned by their lack of choices in this election. While 26% overall have a negative view of both Trump and Biden, a significantly larger 41% of young voters dislike both, according to a poll by Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. That same survey of voters under 30 showed Biden ahead by more than 20 points over Trump, but less than half planned to vote this year.

A sign at the Gaza solidarity encampment at George Washington University urges people to vote against Joe Biden in Maryland’s presidential primary, Washington, DC, May 6, 2024. Many demonstrators are unhappy with Biden’s failure to rein in the Israeli siege of Gaza, which has kiled more than 35,000 people, most of them women and children. (Photo by Allison Bailey/NurPhoto via AP)

Saaketh Vemuneri, a freshman studying computer science, could be one of those voters — he admits that he may ultimately decide to stay home if participating in the election doesn’t work with his schedule. 

“If I just can’t, if that day doesn’t work out for me, or I have something else to do, then yeah, I probably won’t vote,” Vemuneri said. “I have a very open mind, so I don’t sway one way or another, so if I do decide to vote, I’ll probably end up voting for whoever I like most at the time,” he added.

While polling doesn’t always translate to real life, the results are an early warning sign for Democrats, who have relied on younger voters during successful presidential cycles.

“I’m definitely most worried about turnout, because young people aren’t really excited about either candidate on any of the issues,” said Ashley Aylward, a senior researcher at the Democratic polling firm HIT Strategies. 

“The young voter electorate has really changed the outcome of elections in the past few years between 2020 with the last Biden versus Trump election as well as midterms.” 

Despite their impact to sway an election, Aylward said young voters now are “just overwhelmingly unmotivated because of their dissatisfaction and not feeling really excited about either candidate.”

A new poll released on Thursday by Democratic-aligned public opinion research group Blueprint found most young voters trust Biden over Trump to handle most things, except for two concerns that “may be the defining issues of the 2024 election.” The poll found that 52% trust Trump more when it comes to lowering prices and that 53% trust Trump more to secure the border, statistics those in Democratic circles believe are worth paying attention to. 

“Young voters are much closer ideologically to Joe Biden than they are to Donald Trump,” Evan Roth Smith, the lead pollster for Blueprint, said. “But, the two biggest issues of this election, inflation and immigration, it’s very notable that with young voters — those are the only places Donald Trump has an advantage, and it’s particularly concerning.” 

The polling found that nearly every young voter answered that economic concern was a top issue and as a whole, inflation and the economy were the most frequently prioritized issues, chosen by 73% and 70% of young voters. 

Aylward believes Democrats and the Biden campaign need to do better in getting the word out about Biden’s accomplishments in addressing inflation and the economy, specifically targeting young voter awareness. 

“When we ask voters, ‘do you feel your cost of living is better in the past four years versus the past eight years under the Trump administration?’ Gen Z voters really don’t know how to answer and they end up falling more in the don’t know and neutral because they weren’t financially independent at the time,” Aylward explained. 

“And then, there’s the added issue of a large chunk of this group, being college students and at home during COVID or entering the workforce, but still being at home because of the pandemic. It’s just a different beast that we haven’t had to navigate before because we didn’t have a giant pandemic,” she added.

Biden campaign seeks to refresh memories of Trump

The Biden campaign said it is investing in a robust operation to reach first-time voters and refresh their memories about what happened during the Trump years. 

“Donald Trump poses a direct threat to young people — their economic futures, the ability to make their own health care decisions, to love who they love, and to live free from the threat of gun violence are all on the line in this election,” said Seth Schuster, a Biden campaign spokesman in a statement provided to the Washington Examiner. 

“The job of campaigns is to educate and remind voters of the stakes of the election — and unlike Trump’s basement campaign, the Biden-Harris campaign is working every single day to talk to, mobilize, and earn the votes of young Americans.”

The president’s reelection campaign launched its outreach effort and hired a youth engagement director in January, when in previous cycles the position wasn’t hired until the end of the summer, the campaign said.  

The Biden team’s strategy is to meet young voters where they are: on college campuses, on social media, and in places they congregate like musical festivals, sporting events, and bars. The campaign has been releasing digital ads since the president’s reelection became official and is targeting them to skew toward young voters, including the current $14 million ad campaign for the month of May. The campaign is also relying on influencers they’ve cultivated relationships with since 2020, to help reach more young voters online who may not be as politically involved. 

Madeleine Byrnes, a master’s degree candidate studying speech pathology at Wayne State University, writes in a notebook in Birmingham, Mich., Feb. 15, 2024. In Michigan, a state that both major parties say they must have to win the White House in 2024, a cloud of apathy has settled over the electorate. Byrnes, a 25-year-old Republican from Oakland County, says she sees signs of slowing in President Joe Biden, but that former President Donald Trump “causes fights,” and that she has “been thinking about whether I want to vote or not.” (AP Photo/Thomas Beaumont)

In March, the campaign launched a national student organizing program to build on-campus infrastructure to reach first-time voters and prepare organizers to hit the ground running in the fall. In addition, the campaign is outsourcing some of the organizing efforts to 15 leading youth vote and mobilization groups, who are hiring hundreds of organizers and recruiting volunteers. 

Trump’s team has not had as robust on-the-ground staffing, but the campaign said they have paid staffers in every battleground state. The Trump team is pointing to recent polling, as a signal young people are increasingly unhappy with the administration’s policies and are preparing to turn away from Biden this cycle. 

“Joe Biden’s policies have created a more expensive, divided, and dangerous country for young Americans to grow up in, and that’s why he’s losing significant ground with this demographic in the polls,”  said Karoline Leavitt, national press secretary for the Trump campaign to the Washington Examiner. “On the contrary, President Trump will create a safe, prosperous, and free nation that helps all young people achieve their American Dream.”

CLICK HERE TO READ MORE FROM THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER 

Whether the significant investment of either campaign will pay off with first-time voters is an open question. Jaiden Liferiedge, a freshman studying computer science, said neither campaign has reached out to him or had much of a presence on campus. 

“I occasionally see organizers for Kennedy here on campus, but that’s all I’ve seen,” Liferiedge said of third-party candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. “Maybe it’s too early, but you would think if they want our votes they’d be out here.”

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