WASHINGTON — Mary Collins voted for President Joe Biden in 2020. A year and a half later, Collins, 25, of Raleigh, North Carolina, gives the White House and the Democratic-led Congress a 4. out of 10 for performance.
“It just doesn’t seem like there’s been a lot of progress,” she said. “You hear good things the Biden administration has done, but otherwise it’s very disappointing.”
She said she was struggling to afford health care and was being squeezed by rising gas prices. She wants measures to alleviate student debt. She worries about climate change.
“Frankly, life has been very difficult for all of us,” Collins said. “The disappointment is there because I expected something to happen to relieve the pressure. But I feel like the longer it goes on, the harder it gets.
Dozens of Americans like Collins — young, liberal-leaning, economically anxious, and disappointed that Democratic-controlled Washington hasn’t done more to improve their lives — wield substantial power in the 2022 election. Democrats need that Gen Z and Gen Y voters have a hope of retaining the House or Senate. And they don’t usually vote midterm.
Collins said she plans to vote this fall — “unfortunately” for Democrats. A registered independent, she is open to alternatives but discouraged by GOP opposition to abortion rights, rejection of climate change and disparagement of migrants and non-Christians.
After youth turnout hits record highs in 2020, fueled by Biden’s progressive agenda and a desire to send President Donald Trump home to Florida, Democratic strategists are sounding the alarm over lack of enthusiasm young voters. They fear it will drive disgruntled young Americans out of the 2022 election and give the party a boost. Preventing that, they say, will take more investment and awareness, as well as political victories or evidence that Democrats are fighting for issues they care about.
“There is a problem of enthusiasm”
Biden gained 58 percent of millennial and Gen Z voters in 2020, crushing Trump by 20 points after striking an alliance with Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., his top Democratic rival and a favorite of young Americans. Among voters under 35, Biden’s approval rating was 56% in combined NBC News polls in April and August 2021. It fell to 42% last month.
“Biden is not doing well with young voters,” said Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez, president of NextGen America, a liberal group focused on youth participation. “There is a problem of enthusiasm among young progressives. I can’t promise a candidate will win with the youth vote, but I can promise you a Democratic candidate will lose without it.
In the 2018 midterm elections, 28.2% of Americans under 30 voted, according to a Tufts University analysis. Democrats made big gains in the House and in the gubernatorial races this fall.
But in 2014 and 2010, the last two midterm elections under a Democratic president, they were 21.3% and 20.4%, respectivelyand the party suffered devastating defeats across the country.
Among voters under 35, last month’s NBC News poll found 28% express great interest in the 2022 election. Alarmingly for Democrats, that’s the same level of interest as this group expressed prior to the 2014 contest. In contrast, 39% of voters under 35 expressed great interest ahead of the 2018 election.
Many millennial and Gen Z voters interviewed for this article said they would support Biden and his party more if they canceled federal student debt. Others said they wanted to see progress on his stalled 2020 campaign promises, such as climate action, health care cost relief and affordable housing.
Ramirez said some young voters may be motivated to vote when reminded of GOP plans to roll back abortion rights, target LGBTQ people and ignore climate change, but others need to be convinced that Democrats care about them and fight for their future.
“A lot of young voters don’t understand why we control the House, the Senate and the White House and the agenda hasn’t moved forward,” she said. “So it is essential to be able to do what we can. Many young people voted for the first time in 2020 because they felt fascism against democracy was on the ballot. They also voted to improve their lives.
Avoid a “2014-style mid-term”
Biden has faced roadblocks seeking to implement more of his 2020 campaign agenda — narrow Democratic majorities in Congress with some uncooperative members, an aggressive Republican opposition and a conservative Supreme Court.
Seth Voegele, 25, a Dallas-based financial analyst, said he recognizes Biden has been roughed up and faces constraints.
“However, I will say that I am not impressed. I think there’s definitely more to be done,” he said, adding that his confidence in the president has diminished since he voted for him in 2020. “To be honest, he’s showing his age. “
Passing what Democrats can of the Build Back Better Act would improve their prospects this fall and help avoid another brutal, low-turnout election like the one in 2014, some strategists say.
“Youth engagement has dramatically shortened that cycle – and in mid-term environments, engaging your base is a key component of success,” said Sean McElwee, executive director of Data for Progress, who interviewed young voters with NextGen America. “We need to avoid a 2014-style middle ground, and the best way to do that is to raise taxes on the rich to secure clean energy independence.”
A poll by NextGen America and Data for Progress found that among Americans ages 18-36, the Democratic Party’s favorable net rating is 11 points under water in Arizona and 19 points under water in Nevada. , two key swing states. In Pennsylvania, the party has a positive net rating of 11 points.
Jennifer Ingram, 35, of Wilmington, North Carolina, said she wants Democrats to stand firm on LGBTQ rights and pursue action on gun control, mental health, legalization of marijuana and student debt.
“A lot of my friends my age or younger are really struggling to make ends meet,” she said, calling for action on student loan debt. “Older generations don’t quite realize the devastation this has for kids my age and young adults.”
Asked about the president’s struggles with young people, a Biden adviser said, ‘Elections are about choice,’ arguing that Democrats are fighting to cut costs while Republicans are blocking and favoring tax hikes. on the middle class and the cuts in social security.
The adviser said Biden would “continue to communicate directly with the American people” about his plans and tout his accomplishments, including the US bailout, the infrastructure act, 8 million new jobs and 3.6% unemployment.
“The president made promises”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., said Biden could write off $50,000 per federal student debt borrower using executive power. The administration resisted that call, but it kept the door open for further action ahead of the November election after recently extending the pause on federal loan repayments.
“Student debt forgiveness is extremely important to young Americans,” she said, describing it as a matter of equality, racial justice and gender justice. “The president made promises during the campaign, and young people across America want to see him fighting alongside them.”
Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said young people aren’t interested in “process arguments” for why things don’t get done. The caucus presented Biden with a list of proposed executive actions on health care, prescription drug costs, wages and immigration, and student loans.
“I still worry, because I think the political system is so inaccessible to so many young people,” she said.
Rep. Dean Phillips, D-Minn., said when he spoke to young people, three issues came up regularly: climate change, gun violence and student debt.
“Do I understand why a youngster would be disappointed right now?” he said. “Yeah, of course I understand.
Phillips said Democrats should “open our ears” and acknowledge their concerns. He noted that House Democrats have passed major legislation on climate action and background checks for gun purchases, which have stalled in the Senate, where residents of small red states are overrepresented. and most bills require 60 votes to pass.
“Our founders have designed a system very well to make progress difficult. And it works very well,” he said.