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Cheap gas, ‘mean tweets,’ and the end of democracy

Biden is hemorrhaging young voters. Can he win them back?

In 2020, the only age demographics in which Joe Biden beat Donald Trump were with voters under 44. And he won them by a significant amount: taking 60% of the 18-29 contingent and 52% of voters between 30 and 44. Biden especially dominated among young voters of color: winning 89% of the youngest Black voters and 69% of Gen Z Latinos, with similarly wide margins among their Millennial siblings.

Those days are over. According to the latest GenForward survey from the University of Chicago, Biden and Trump are effectively tied among voters under 40—and the numbers get worse for the Democrat the younger you go. When you break out these younger voters by race, things get even scarier: Just 33% of young Black voters said they plan to vote for Biden, compared with 23% for Trump. And Biden is losing to Trump among young Latinos: 28% to 32%, just within but at the outer edge of the margin of error.

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In fact, the only slice of the youth demographic in which Biden has a clear edge is among Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders—and even then he’s below 50%, with just 45% telling pollsters they support Biden, compared with 18% for the recently convicted felon.

I’d expect all of those numbers to improve slightly for Biden by the fall, if they haven’t already. (The GenForward survey was conducted in mid-May, before Trump’s conviction.) But inertia will only take him so far. Biden did improve between the June and October 2020 editions of the GenForward poll, picking up a few percentage points in most of the demographics (though he lost two points to Trump among young Latinos). But he was already in a fine position as of that June, winning all the younger voters of color in that pandemic summer by at least 35 percentage points, and the overall youth vote by a comfortable margin of 47% to 25%.

Youths. (Timothy Norris/Getty Images)

So what is going on? Have young folk not heard about Trump’s autocratic Project 2025, or his promise to be a dictator “on day one?” Has word not filtered down of Trump’s plans to cancel birthright citizenship, revive the Muslim ban, or conduct mass military raids across the country — deporting up to 20 million people after housing them in newly built concentration camps? Do they not hear that he keeps threatening to execute drug dealers? Do they not know that Trump already tried to overthrow the U.S. government once? Or that his acolytes are already, in earnest, preparing the ground for him to remain in office indefinitely?

Having spent a somewhat inordinate amount of time talking with Youths of America on TikTok over the last few months, I can summarize it like this: If they know, they do not care. (Or perhaps they like it.) Said one: “Nothing makes me feel more pessimistic than being told it’s of dire importance I vote for a man who signed such a draconic (sic) anti-immigration order and is supporting a genocide. How are these men different?”

Another commented: “Trump is only worse for white people. At least under a Republican, liberals will step up to fight unjust laws.” When I responded that in all likelihood Trump would be (and in fact was) worse for nonwhites as president, a Black user responded: “Nah. We know that game. My hope is he hurts the majority European descent people into action, cause their apathy right now is unaliving people.”1

This position is borne out by the survey data, the clearest message of which is that young voters are above all pissed at the current president.2 A scant 6% told the pollsters

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