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

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

Alexandra Chadwick went to the polls in 2020 with the singular goal of unseating Donald J. Trump. A 22-year-old first-time voter, she saw Joseph R. Biden Jr. more as a safeguard than an inspirational political figure, someone who could stave off threats to abortion access, gun control and climate policy.

Two years later, with the Supreme Court eroding federal protections for all three, Chadwick now sees President Biden and other Democratic leaders as lacking both the imagination and the willpower to fight back. She points to a generation gap, one that was once overlooked but now seems cavernous.

“How are you going to accurately lead your country if your mind is still stuck 50, 60 or 70 years ago?” Chadwick, a customer service representative in Rialto, California, about the many septuagenarian leaders at the helm of his party. “It’s not the same, and the people are not the same, and your old ideas aren’t going to work as well anymore.”

A poll by The New York Times and Siena College found that just 1 percent of 18-29 year olds strongly approve of the way Biden is handling his job. And 94 percent of Democrats under the age of 30 said they wanted another candidate to run within two years. Of all age groups, young voters were most likely to say they would vote neither for Biden nor Trump in a hypothetical 2024 rematch.

The numbers are a stark warning to Democrats as they struggle to avoid a blowout in November’s midterm elections. Young people, long the least trusted part of the party coalition, have marched for gun control, rallied against Trump and helped drive a Democratic wave in the 2018 midterm elections. side of the Democrats on issues that are only gaining importance.

But four years later, many feel disconnected and deflated, with only 32 percent saying they are “almost certain” to vote in November, according to the survey. Nearly half said they didn’t think their vote would make a difference.

Interviews with these young voters reveal the generational tensions driving their frustration. As they have come of age facing racial strife, political strife, high inflation, and a pandemic, they have sought help from politicians more than three times their age.

Those older leaders often talk about defending institutions and restoring norms, while younger voters say they are more interested in results. Many expressed a desire for more radical changes, such as a viable third party and a new crop of younger leaders. They are eager to take innovative action on problems they will inherit, they said, rather than go back to what 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 views as poll director. at the Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics. “But every member of Congress has also seen the best of America. And that’s when we all come together. That’s something Generation Z hasn’t had.”

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

In a rematch of the 2020 election, Biden would lead 38% to 30% among young voters, but 22% of voters ages 18 to 29 said they would not vote if those candidates were their choice, much the same. most of any age group.

Those voters include Ellis McCarthy, 24, who works a few part-time jobs in Bellevue, Ky. McCarthy says he longs for a government that is “completely new.”

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 facility. The two men talked about their union and his work, two things he loved. Not long after, his father fell ill, he was hospitalized, and after his recovery, the health care system left him bitter and what the family saw as Mr. Biden’s failure to fix it.

“It seems like whether it’s Biden, whether it’s Trump, no one is stepping up to be a voice for people like me,” he said. “The workers are left to dry.”

Denange Sanchez, a 20-year-old student at Eastern Florida State College in Palm Bay, Florida, sees Biden as “frivolous” in his promises.

Ms. Sanchez’s mother owns a house cleaning service and does most of the cleaning herself, with Denange pitching in where she can. Her entire family, including her mother, who has a heart condition and a pacemaker, has struggled with bouts of covid, without insurance. Even when she was sick, her mother was up at all hours doing home remedies, Sanchez said.

“Everyone said we were going to crush this virus. Biden made all those promises. And now nobody takes the pandemic seriously anymore, but it still surrounds us. It’s so frustrating,” he said. Ms. Sanchez, who is studying medicine, also counted college debt relief 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 insist there is time to engage them on the issues they prioritize. Recent Supreme Court decisions stripping away the constitutional right to abortion, limiting the ability of states to control the carrying of firearms, and curtailing the federal government’s regulatory powers over emissions that contribute to global warming are only now beginning to unravel. take root in the consciousness of voters, Jefrey said. Pollock, pollster for House Democrats.

“We are no longer talking about a theory; we are talking about a Supreme Court that is setting the country back 50 years or more,” she said. “If we can’t deliver that message, then we’ll be ashamed.”

While middle-aged voters consistently identified the economy as a top interest, it’s just one of many for younger voters, roughly tied to abortion, the state of American democracy and gun policies.

That presents a dilemma for Democratic candidates in tough districts, many of whom say they should focus their election message almost exclusively on the economy, but perhaps at the expense of energizing younger voters.

Tate Sutter, 21, feels that disconnect. A native of Auburn, California, who attends Middlebury College in Vermont, Mr. Sutter recounted watching the Fourth of July fireworks and feeling embarrassed as another fire season begins and aggressive federal action to combat global warming stalls in The congress. Sure enough, he said, he could see a forest fire in the southern foothills.

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

Sutter said he understood the limits on Biden’s powers with an evenly divided Senate. But he also said that he understands the power of the presidency and did not see Mr. Biden wielding it effectively.

“With age comes a lot of experience and wisdom and just knowing how to do it. But perception-wise, it seems disconnected from people of my generation,” he said.

After years of feeling politicians don’t talk to people like him, Juan Flores, 23, says he has turned his attention to local ballot initiatives on issues like housing or homelessness, which he feels are more likely to have an impact on your life. Mr. Flores attended data analytics school but drives a delivery truck for Amazon in San Jose, California. There, home prices average over a million dollars, making it difficult, if not impossible, for residents to live on a single income.

“I feel like many politicians, they already come from a good education,” he said. “Most of them don’t really fully understand the scope of what most Americans are going through.”

The Times/Siena College poll found that 46 percent of young voters favored Democratic control of Congress, while 28 percent wanted Republicans to take over. More than one in four young voters, 26 percent, do not know or have 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 side had made convincing arguments to people his age. He worries about mass shootings, a mental health crisis among young people, and climate change.

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

“I think the Democrats are scared of the Republicans right now, the Republicans are scared of the Democrats,” he said. “They don’t know which way to go.”

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

“Literally, if someone other than Biden ran, I would feel more comfortable,” he said. “I just like the idea of ​​having someone in power who can cast your vision and goals effectively.”

Young Democrats said they wanted the same from their leaders: vision, dynamism and maybe a bit of youth, but not too much. Several young voters mentioned Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 32-year-old Democrat from New York. Ms. Chadwick praised her youth and her willingness to speak up, often against her older colleagues in Congress, and summed up her appeal in one word: “identification.”

Michael C. Bender and Alyce McFadden contributed reporting.

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