Opinion: Democrats just can’t seal the deal with young Americans

Editor’s note: CNN political commentator Kristen Soltis Anderson is a Republican pollster and strategist and author of “The Selfie Vote: Where Millennials Are Leading America (and How Republicans Can Keep Up.)” The opinions expressed in this commentary are her own. Read more opinion pieces on CNN.



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Democrats felt young voters could stay home in November and turned to “Dark Brandon” for help in times of trouble.

For those who don’t know – and mine vote suggests that almost everyone reads this – “Dark Brandon” is a meme of President Joe Biden, rendered as an all-powerful hero (or villain, depending on your perspective). It started as a right-wing slogan before Democrats appropriated it to praise the president.

The meme reached the pinnacle of its powers, whatever they might be, when the Democrat group Building Back Together published a 30-second hallucinogenic commercial earlier this month featuring President Biden’s meme, lasers coming out of his eyes and all. The message? Biden is an exciting and successful hero on issues like student loan debt. Or rather, “if you’re not excited about Biden and the Democratic Party, please don’t be.”

I’ve been sounding the alarm for years that Republicans have trouble with young voters and risk losing them for good. That remains the case, as numerous polls show young voters still have a fairly negative view of the GOP.

But even though Millennials and Gen Z Americans tend to lean left on a host of economic and cultural issues such as LGBTQ rights and the size of government, it’s clear that in this mid-election term, the Democrats have not energized the youth vote and may not be. to be able to count on young people as a key element of their coalition.

Voters under 30 aren’t exactly enamored with the way things are going in America these days. Two-thirds of them say the economy is doing badly, according to a CBS News/YouGov poll. And as a result, less than a quarter “strongly approve” of the work Biden is doing. Only 31% say they are “very enthusiastic” about voting midterm, compared to two-thirds of voters aged 65 and over. And only one in six say they pay “great” attention to midterm reviews.

It’s not very unusual. Younger voters typically drop out in greater numbers than older voters as you transition from a big presidential election to a less key midterm. According to CNN exit polls, voters under 30 made up just 13% of all voters in the 2018 midterm elections, down from 17% in the 2020 general election.

However, my own firm’s analysis suggests that voters under 30 could fall to just 10% of the electorate in 2022. – a year in which a historic overall turnout for a mid-term of more than 125 million votes is expected.

While young voters aren’t likely to turn out in large numbers to fuel a “red wave,” it’s not hard to imagine them costing Democrats their majority by staying home.

Democrats haven’t always needed younger voters to win. In fact, young voters were a relatively evenly distributed group of voters for most of the 1990s and 2000s. But midterm in 2006, before Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) had even announced his candidacy for president, young voters began to bleed from the GOP in large numbers. Exit polls showed voters under 30 split for Democrats by a 22-point margin in House races in that election, which propelled Nancy Pelosi to the presidency for the first time.

Young voters continued to oppose the GOP even during the “red wave” years. The 2010 election, by all accounts a great year for Republicans, saw voters under age 30 still breaks for the Democrats by a 16-point margin. By the time the “blue wave” of 2018 arrived, we were seeing a massive turnout of young voters in the elections they had previously participated in. Plus, those voters broke for the Democrats by an absolutely whopping 35-point margin.

But then Donald Trump lost the presidency and Biden – not necessarily a favorite among young voters – became the leader of the nation and the Democratic Party. Even before he was the Democratic presidential nominee, his polls of young voters still left something to be desired; only a third of voters under 30 had a favorable opinion of him ahead of the 2020 election.

Issues important to many young voters have taken a back seat and our political class continues to age. As a result, over the past few years there has been a fascinating depolarization along generational lines. It used to be that if I knew your age, I could pretty easily make an educated guess about how you would vote. That’s less likely to be the case today, largely because younger voters have grown more disillusioned with Democrats.

What is particularly embarrassing for Democrats is that all of this is happening in a context where young Americans are increasingly speaking out about their politics. Companies are grappling with Gen Z and Millennial employees who seem more eager than ever to work for employers who align with their political and cultural worldview. I regularly hear from business leaders who know that young consumers vote with their wallets and opt for products and services that align with their values.

If young Americans are increasingly focused on the issues and want change, but aren’t voting midterm, it represents a huge missed opportunity for those who want to see greater youth participation in politics. . And in this election, it could cost the Democrats their majority.

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