OPINION: Why Biden is Losing Young Voters—And What It Will Take to Get Them Back

If Biden wants to win back alienated young voters, he first needs to understand what shapes our politics.

7 mins read

Hey Biden, I saw you joined us on TikTok. But, stitching Jimmy Fallon’s posts and sharing your takes on the Super Bowl won’t be enough to win our votes in 2024. 

My generation has lived through no shortage of historical moments in the last four years. We’ve spent years in Zoom classes during Covid-19, reported on school shootings at our own campuses, and witnessed a string of international conflicts. Every year we face is somehow the warmest year on record, and we enter 2024 teetering on a “financial cliff.” 

When our norm is crisis, is it any surprise that a few memes are not enough to win us over? 

Art credit: Sandra Xinyu Ye

Our distinct circumstances have aged us, and our generation has been forced to adopt political maturity beyond our years. If you want to meet us where we are, drop the gimmicks and give us policies that actually address systemic issues.

But first, why so much fuss over young voters at all? The reason we keep hearing so much about this is because the “youth vote” can be one of the most powerful forces in American politics. Gen Z forms a potential voter base of 40 million, including 8 million people who have become eligible since the 2022 election. But currently, 58% of voters aged 18-30 say they are unsure whether they will even vote. Winning this “youth vote” could put the thumb on the scale for a candidate, and ignoring the constituency could cost them the election. 

Campaigns are already rolling out their various strategies, but many of these barely scratch the surface of what actually matters to young people like me. Ranging from SneakerCon to TikToks, Civilian Climate Corps to student debt cancellation, these tactics appear political rather than substantial. They all ramp up within a year of the election, when incumbents like you realize it’s time to start winning over young voters again. But our generation’s qualms are much too systemic to satisfy with these 11th-hour Band-Aids. 

Once Biden’s campaign comes to terms with Gen-Z’s disillusionment and frustration, it will become abundantly clear that a social media facelift won’t be enough to convince us that Biden is working for the future we desire. So, what would actually get my generation motivated to show up for Biden on election day?

We want action, not words, on a few issues in particular. 

First, support a ceasefire. Many of us open our devices each morning to new footage of what many in my generation consider to be first livestreamed genocide. Exposure to the war in Gaza for our generation is constant and visceral, meaning Biden’s staunch support of Israel is out of step with the young voters he hopes to sway. Expediting military support for Israel and maintaining the United States’ public approval of the war in Gaza, Biden has been labeled by some as the “most pro-Israel president in history.” Meanwhile, a New York Times/Siena poll found that only 20% of voters under 30 approve of Biden’s handling of the conflict in Gaza. In fact, 45% of voters under 30 disapprove of Biden entirely, while specifically citing his support of Israel. We recognize that Biden has called for temporary pauses to the violence and called Israel’s actions “over the top.” But, the issue continued to alienate us— a generation that doesn’t just want Biden to decry the violence, but one that wants him to stop material aid to Israel and formally call for a ceasefire. 

Second, climate action. Biden has touted the Inflation Reduction Act as a historic bill, but our generation is attentive to the areas he is still falling short on climate. From failure to attend COP28, to his approval of the Willow Project and other oil and gas expansion, Biden’s climate action is insufficient. His administration has taken note of this frustration, taking election-year actions like a temporary pause on approvals of new liquified natural gas export facilities. But, young people have made it abundantly clear that actions speak louder than words. As the generation who will inherit this crisis from Biden’s generation, we need bolder action than we have seen so far. 

And third, relieve economic stress. We recognize that Biden is making election-year efforts to cancel student debt, but we need him to pair this with consistent, long-term action to improve the economy we are inheriting. We are entering adulthood unsure about whether we can afford rent, let alone buy a home in the near future. Pew Research polling found that 70% of respondents felt like young people now have a harder time buying a home than their parents’ generation did, and rent has risen 18% nationally over the past five years. Many of us have reached a point where we believe we may never own a home. So, young voters don’t just want Biden to tout economic improvement, we want to feel it in their pockets. 

Ultimately, Biden knows he needs our votes to win again in 2024. It’s up to him and his party whether they’re willing to take the action necessary to do so. But, one thing is clear — he won’t be winning our votes if he continues trying to solve systemic problems with political solutions. That’ll take real action, not TikToks.

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