GOP’s inclusion of TikTok ban is secret weapon against Biden

Emily Hudson By Emily Hudson Jun8,2024

Democrats are bracing for a backlash from young voters over the potential ban of TikTok on U.S. phones, something made more likely by the Chinese government’s opposition to ByteDance selling off one of the most sophisticated algorithms in the world.

It’s a problem for President Biden, who won 60 percent of voters 18 to 29 years old in the 2020 election but has seen his support drop to 45 percent in that key demographic, according to a recent Harvard Youth poll.

An NBC News poll published in November even showed former President Trump leading Biden among voters ages 18-34 nationwide, 46 percent to 42 percent.

Democratic strategists have attributed Biden’s struggles with younger voters to the president’s age — 81 — and dissatisfaction over his handling of the war in Gaza, which has sparked protests on college campuses across the country.

Now a potential TikTok ban could become another headwind. While a ban wouldn’t go into effect before Election Day, TikTok plans to fight it vigorously and has warned its devoted fanbase that the popular app could disappear from their phones.

“A higher percentage of Americans under 30 oppose [the ban,]” said Stephen Weymouth, a professor at the Georgetown University McDonough School of Business.

“Unless the political leaders here are more persuasive in convincing people of the benefits of this possible divestment/ban, I think this is going to be relatively unpopular at a time when the president needs turnout from younger voters,” he added. “This is not likely to help.”

Up to 170 million Americans now use TikTok, and it’s especially popular with younger people.

An Associated Press/NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll published earlier this year found that 73 percent of Americans who use TikTok on a daily basis oppose a ban.

A poll of 1,001 Americans conducted by CNBC last month found that 48 percent of people between the ages of 18 and 34 opposed banning TikTok.

Another poll conducted by ClearPath Strategies, found that 51 percent of Black voters, another important Democratic constituency, said they oppose a ban and view the app favorably.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) this week blamed House Republicans for jamming language potentially banning TikTok into the $95 billion foreign aid package the Senate passed Tuesday.  

“Look, Speaker [Mike] Johnson [R-La.] put it in the bill, in the big supplemental bill, and we had to get the supplemental bill passed as quickly as possible,” he told reporters when asked about a political backlash to the TikTok ban.

Republican strategists, however, say Biden will bear the brunt of any fallout because he signed the bill into law, and he is relying on young voters more than Trump.

“The fact that more younger voters are shying away from supporting President Biden, according to the polls, this doesn’t help him, this doesn’t help the Biden administration,” said Ron Bonjean, a Republican strategist.

“I think it would have some type of effect” on the election, he said. “It’s easy for younger people to understand that President Biden signed into law the TikTok ban. Republicans can point that out to younger voters but the national media will do the same.”

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), who voted for the broader foreign aid package, warned Senate colleagues about the impact of a TikTok ban on younger voters.

“It could and likely will result in widespread censorship and this censorship would most predominantly affect young people in our country, many of who are just obtaining the right to vote,” he warned.

“Instead of protecting young people online, we’re censoring their speech. And this is a grave mistake,” he argued.

A Republican strategist who requested anonymity noted “the Biden influencer space, the Democrat influence space on TikTok is absolutely huge.”

“That’s why you see all the Democrat politicians, even if they say support banning TikTok, they still use it,” said the source. “Especially among the Senate Democrats, who say they support banning it but still use TikTok.”

The strategist noted that Texas Senate candidate Colin Allred, a Democratic member of the House, came under criticism for posting several times on TikTok the very same day he voted for the TikTok ban.

“Brooooooooooo, we voted for you. But you Voted against us,” fumed one of Allred’s followers, according to The Texas Tribune.

National security adviser Jake Sullivan had to answer tough questions this week about why the Biden campaign continues to use TikTok, even though the president signed the new law requiring its Chinese owner to divest because of national security concerns.

“I’m going to let campaigns decide for themselves what they’re going to do,” Sullivan told reporters when asked if it’s safe for campaigns to continue to use TikTok in light of allegations that the Chinese government has access to the app’s data.

“What we’re focused on right now in implementing the bill is working through that divestment in a way that’s consistent with the intent of the law and consistent with the national security concerns that brought the law to force in the first place,” Sullivan said.

Lawmakers who backed the potential TikTok ban have tried to frame it as simply forcing Chinese ownership to “divest,” but the Chinese government’s opposition to a sale makes a ban now seem more likely. 

Under the law passed this week, ByteDance would have 270 days to sell TikTok to avoid a ban in the United States.

Experts are skeptical that ByteDance will sell TikTok given a 2020 Chinese export control law that requires China’s government to approve the sale of algorithms and other cutting-edge technology.

“The Chinese are going to try to block the divestment. In 2020, they updated their export control rules to include restrictions on the sale of specific technologies, including algorithms, to foreign companies without government approval,” Weymouth said.

“That could lead to problems with the sale or divestment of TikTok because of course the algorithm is where the value of the company principally lies,” he said.  

Reuters reported Thursday that ByteDance would opt for shutting down TikTok in the United States over selling the app if it fails to defeat the legislation in court.

Darrell West, a senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution, however, noted that a ban wouldn’t take effect until well after the election.

“Voters still will have access to the app and candidates will be using TikTok to win young voters. The company has indicated it will fight the ban in court so it could take years before the legal issues are addressed,” he said.

“There won’t be any specific harm to Biden because it was a large bipartisan vote that approved the ban,” he argued.

TikTok issued a statement calling “this unconstitutional law a TikTok ban” and vowing to fight it in court, something that would take months or even years.

“We believe the facts and the law are clearly on our side, and we will ultimately prevail,” it said.

Bonjean, the political strategist, said that while a ban will not take effect before Election Day, TikTok will draw plenty of attention to it over the next several months as it tries to whip up public opinion against the new law.

“This gives an opportunity for those who support TikTok to create more awareness that there’s a significant possibility that the app will go away,” he said. “This can be a long sustained campaign by candidates on both sides of the aisle, along with the company and the grassroots supporters.”

Emily Hudson

By Emily Hudson

Emily is a talented author who has published several bestselling novels in the mystery genre. With a knack for creating gripping plotlines and intriguing characters, Emily's works have captivated readers worldwide.

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2 thoughts on “GOP’s inclusion of TikTok ban is secret weapon against Biden”
  1. As a young voter, I believe that banning TikTok would be a huge mistake. It’s a platform where we connect, express ourselves, and stay informed about various issues. President Biden needs to understand that we value our digital freedom and will not take this lightly.

  2. A higher percentage of Americans under 30 oppose the ban. Unless the political leaders here are more persuasive in convincing people of the benefits of this possible divestment/ban, I think this is going to be relatively unpopular at a time when the president needs turnout from younger voters.

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