Young voters are fed up with their (much) older leaders

Alexandra Chadwick went to the polls in 2020 with the sole purpose of ousting Donald J. Trump. A 22-year-old first-time voter, she viewed Joseph R. Biden Jr. as more of a backup than an inspirational political figure, someone who could ward off threats to abortion access, gun control at fire and climate policy.

Two years later, with the Supreme Court eroding federal protections on all three, Ms. Chadwick now sees President Biden and other Democratic leaders lacking both the imagination and the will to fight back. She points to a generational divide – a divide that she once overlooked but now seems cavernous.

“How are you going to run your country with precision if your mind is still stuck 50, 60 or 70 years ago?” Ms. Chadwick, a customer service representative in Rialto, California, spoke of the many septuagenarian leaders leading her party. “It’s not the same anymore, and the people aren’t the same anymore, and your old ideas won’t work as well.”

A New York Times and Siena College survey found that only 1% of 18-29 year olds strongly approve of the way Mr. Biden handles his job. And 94% of Democrats under 30 said they want another candidate to run in two years. Of all age groups, younger voters were the most likely to say they would vote for neither Mr. Biden nor Mr. Trump in a hypothetical rematch in 2024.

The numbers are a clear warning to Democrats as they struggle to avoid a beating in November’s midterm elections. Young people, long among the most unreliable elements of the party’s coalition, marched for gun control, rallied against Mr Trump and helped fuel a Democratic wave in the 2018 midterm elections They still side with the Democrats on issues that are only growing in importance.

But four years later, many feel disengaged and deflated, with just 32% saying they are “almost certain” to vote in November, according to the poll. Almost half said they didn’t think their vote made a difference.

Interviews with these young voters reveal generational tensions at the root of their frustration. As they came of age in the face of racial strife, political strife, high inflation and a pandemic, they sought help from politicians who are more than three times their age.

These older leaders often talk about maintaining institutions and restoring standards, while younger voters say they are more interested in results. Many expressed a desire for more sweeping changes like a viable third party and a new generation of young leaders. They are hungry for innovative action on issues they will inherit, they said, rather than reverting to what has worked in the past.

“Every member of Congress, every single one of them, I’m sure has had some pretty traumatic times in their lives and also chaos in the country,” said John Della Volpe, who studies youth opinion. as Director of Surveys. at the Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics. “But every member of Congress also saw America at its best. And that’s when we all came together. That’s something Gen Z didn’t have.

At 79, Mr. Biden is the oldest president in U.S. history and one of several Democratic Party leaders approaching or reaching 80. Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House, is 82 years old. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer is 83. Senate Majority Leader, 71, Chuck Schumer, is the baby of the bunch. Mr. Trump is 76 years old.

In a 2020 election rematch, Mr Biden would lead 38% to 30% among young voters, but 22% of voters between the ages of 18 and 29 said they would not vote if these candidates were theirs. choice, by far the largest share of all. age range.

Among those voters is 24-year-old Ellis McCarthy, who works a few part-time jobs around Bellevue, Kentucky. McCarthy says she longs for a “brand new” government.

Ms McCarthy’s father, an electrician and union member who teaches at a local trade school, met Mr Biden last summer when the president visited the training center. The two men talked about his union and his work, two things he loved. Shortly after, his father fell ill, was hospitalized and after his recovery was left embittered by the healthcare system and what the family saw as Mr Biden’s failure to fix it.

“It’s like it’s Biden, whether it’s Trump, no one is stepping in to be a voice for people like me,” she said. “Workers are left to dry out.”

Denange Sanchez, a 20-year-old student at Eastern Florida State College in Palm Bay, Florida, calls Mr Biden “tasteless” about his promises.

Ms Sanchez’s mother owns a house cleaning service and does most of the cleaning herself, with Denange stepping in where she can. Her whole family – including her mother, who has heart disease and a pacemaker – have battled bouts of Covid, with no insurance. Even sick, her mother was up at all hours preparing home remedies, Ms Sanchez said.

“Everyone said we were going to crush this virus. Biden made all of these promises. And now, no one takes the pandemic seriously anymore, but it’s still all around us. It’s so frustrating,” she said. Ms. Sanchez, who is studying medicine, also counted the cancellation of college debt on her list of Mr. Biden’s broken promises.

Democratic politicians and pollsters are well aware of the problem they face with young voters, but they insist it’s time to engage them on the issues they prioritize. Recent Supreme Court rulings eliminating a constitutional right to abortion, limiting states’ ability to control the carrying of firearms, and reducing the federal government’s regulatory powers over global warming emissions are only beginning to take hold. in the consciousness of voters, said Jeffrey. Pollock, a pollster for House Democrats.

“We are no longer talking about a theory; we are talking about a Supreme Court that sets the country back 50 years or more,” he said. “If we can’t get that message across, shame on us.”

While middle-aged voters have consistently identified the economy as a major interest, this is just one of many younger voters, roughly tied to abortion, the state of American democracy, and firearms policies.

That presents a dilemma for Democratic candidates in tough precincts, many of whom say they should focus their campaign message almost solely on the economy — but perhaps at the expense of energizing young voters.

Tate Sutter, 21, feels this disconnect. A native of Auburn, Calif., a student at Middlebury College in Vermont, Mr Sutter said he watched the July 4 fireworks and cringed as another fire season begins and federal action aggressive action to fight global warming is blocked in Congress. Sure enough, he said, he could see a brush fire breaking out in the hills to the south.

“Climate plays a big role for me in my politics,” he said, expressing dismay that Democrats aren’t talking about it more. “It is very frustrating.”

Mr. Sutter said he understands the limits of Mr. Biden’s powers with an evenly divided Senate. But he also said he understood the power of the presidency and hadn’t seen Mr Biden wield it effectively.

“With age comes a lot of experience and wisdom and just know-how. But perceptually he seems out of touch with people of my generation,” he said.

After years of thinking politicians don’t talk to people like him, Juan Flores, 23, says he’s turned to local vote initiatives on issues like housing or homelessness, which he considers more likely to have an impact on his life. Mr. Flores went to school for data analysis but drives a delivery truck for Amazon in San Jose, California. Home prices there average over $1 million, making it difficult, if not impossible, for residents to live on one income.

“I feel like a lot of politicians, they already come from a good upbringing,” he said. “A majority of them don’t really understand the magnitude of what the majority of the American people are going through.”

The Times/Siena College poll found that 46% of young voters favored Democratic control of Congress, while 28% wanted Republicans to take charge. More than one in four young voters, 26%, don’t know or refused to say which party they want to control Congress.

Ivan Chavez, 25, of Bernalillo, NM, said he identified as an independent in part because neither party made a convincing case to people his age. He worries about mass shootings, a mental health crisis among young people and climate change.

He would like third-party candidates to get more attention. He plans to vote in November, but does not know who he will support.

“I think Democrats are afraid of Republicans right now, Republicans are afraid of Democrats,” he said. “They don’t know where to go.”

Young Republican voters were the least likely to say they wanted Mr Trump to be the party’s nominee in 2024, but Kyle Holcomb, a recent college graduate from Florida, said he would vote for him if that were to happen.

“Literally, if someone other than Biden was running, I’d be more comfortable,” he said. “I just like the idea of ​​having someone in power who can project their vision and goals effectively.”

Young Democrats said they expected the same from their leaders: vision, drive and maybe a little youthfulness, but not too much. Several young voters referred to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 32-year-old New York Democrat. Ms Chadwick praised her youth and willingness to speak out – often against her older colleagues in Congress – and summed up her appeal in one word: “relatability”.

Michael C. Bender and Alyce McFadden contributed reporting.

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