Sat. May 25th, 2024

Why Aren’t Politicians Paying Attention to Millennials and Gen Z, Despite Their Key Role in November’s Outcome?

Tyler Mitchell By Tyler Mitchell May14,2024

It was inevitable that a presidential race headlined by two geriatric candidates would also force a national conversation about our aging lawmakers. But age isn’t just an issue on the presidential circuit — Congress is facing its own generational shift as a wave of millennial and even Gen Z candidates prepare to enter national public service.  

Now a new Harvard IOP Youth Poll throws into sharp relief just how dynamic the youth vote really is, and how important it is to dispel the myths both political parties have created about what it means to be a young voter in America.  

If President Biden wants to keep his job, he needs to claim first-mover status in responding to our country’s misunderstood youth vote. That means more than just sloganeering; it means acknowledging that many of our preconceptions about young voters are wrong, and that our toxic politics isn’t entirely the fault of a radicalized Republican Party.  

For starters, it’s past time to push back against cynical GOP attempts to link all young voters to the antiwar protests currently roiling college campuses across the country. Those protests have led to shocking images of police arresting students and faculty and have polarized the national discussion for weeks, yet only about one in three voters (34 percent) aged 18-29 rate Israel’s war in Gaza as their top issue. 

There’s also the pervasive and harmful myth that young voters will only vote for candidates willing to cancel their student debt.  

Fox News and other right-wing media outlets have devoted hundreds of broadcast hours toward portraying young voters as selfish, greedy students who racked up college debt to get useless degrees and now want working-class Americans to foot the bill. Biden has also sought to capitalize on the student loan debate by highlighting his administration’s $146 billion in debt cancellations. It’s no secret that the president hopes his very public moves to cancel those loans will bring skeptical young progressives back into the Democratic fold. 

There’s just one problem: the vast majority of young voters aren’t fixated on student loan debt.  

According to Harvard’s Youth Poll, only 26 percent of young voters rate the issue as their top concern, making it by far the least popular issue on young voters’ radars. That’s true whether the voter in question is a Democrat, Republican or independent. Democrats have once again fallen for a false narrative manufactured by right-wing media newsrooms to make them look out-of-touch with what young voters actually care about. 

Harvard’s new data goes a long way toward explaining the trend I talked about in last week’s column on the record number of young Americans disconnecting from politics entirely. Even when the campaign message is positive — say, Biden’s focus on student loan cancellation — it tends to focus on issues that only engage a sliver of the electorate. 

If Democrats start engaging young voters on issues they actually care about, they’ll find an electorate ready to side with Joe Biden on nearly every major issue. For example, 57 percent of young Democrats and 53 percent of young Republicans rank “protecting democracy” as their top priority. When it comes to defending our democracy, young voters trust Biden over Donald Trump by an impressive 12-point margin. 

Reproductive freedom is the single biggest issue for young Democrats, with nearly seven in 10 (68 percent) ranking abortion rights as their top concern. That’s also true for half of independents (49 percent) and nearly a quarter (24 percent) of Republicans. Given that Republicans are on a historic electoral losing streak because of their extreme anti-abortion position, it’s understandable that GOP candidates would prefer to pin Biden down on student loans instead of defending their own indefensible assaults on reproductive rights. 

Harvard’s latest data reveals an electorate that looks quite a bit like 2020 and 2022, when Democrats dethroned Trump and then derailed the so-called “red wave” by focusing on fundamental issues of democracy and reproductive freedom. At the time, pundits scolded Biden for making high-minded arguments about defending democracy that they argued wouldn’t resonate with young voters. That myopic view was wrong in 2020 and 2022, and Harvard’s survey shows it’s still wrong today.  

If Biden wants young voters to turn out like they did in 2020, he’ll need to challenge his own thinking about why those voters have become politically disillusioned in the first place. Talking to them about the issues they actually care about would be a great first step.  

Young voters have already said they trust Biden more than Trump to address their concerns. It’s time for Biden to let those voters know he hears their frustration. 

Max Burns is a veteran Democratic strategist and founder of Third Degree Strategies.  

Tyler Mitchell

By Tyler Mitchell

Tyler is a renowned journalist with years of experience covering a wide range of topics including politics, entertainment, and technology. His insightful analysis and compelling storytelling have made him a trusted source for breaking news and expert commentary.

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2 thoughts on “Why Aren’t Politicians Paying Attention to Millennials and Gen Z, Despite Their Key Role in November’s Outcome?”
  1. As a young voter myself, I find it frustrating that politicians continue to overlook the diverse concerns and priorities of Millennials and Gen Z. It’s time for leaders to recognize the power and influence of the youth vote and address our issues with sincerity and understanding.

  2. It’s crucial that politicians start paying attention to millennials and Gen Z voters if they want to secure their support. President Biden must take the lead in understanding and addressing the concerns of the youth vote, instead of relying on outdated stereotypes and misconceptions.

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