Are The Kids Alright?Daniel A. Cox November 15, 2023
What on earth is happening with young voters? A New York Times/Siena College poll of six battleground states found Joe Biden with a one-point lead over former president Trump among 18 to 29 year old registered voters, representing a 25-point swing from the 2020 election. There’s no doubt that Biden is less popular today than when he first took office, and voters have major concerns about his age and leadership.
Yet these numbers are utterly perplexing because in no way are young voters a swing constituency. No Republican presidential candidate has won the majority of voters under 30 since 1988. In 2020, Biden beat Trump among young voters by 26 percentage points and Democratic congressional candidates performed even better among young voters in the 2022 midterms. It’s difficult to imagine a universe in which young voters split their voters between Biden and Trump given their well-documented liberal views and visceral dislike of Trump. But here we are.
It would be easy to dismiss the finding as an outlier. But it’s a result that has turned up in polls again and again. A Quinnipiac poll released just a few days earlier found Biden and Trump essentially tied among younger voters at 46 percent versus 44 percent.
But not every poll shows Biden struggling with young voters. The Republican polling firm Echelon Insights found Biden cruising among under 30 voters, leading Trump 61 percent to 34 percent. This is a situation where canvassing the broader landscape of polling before drawing sweeping conclusions about the state of the race is important.
A cursory inspection of recent pre-election polls reveals a remarkably inconsistent pattern in the candidate preferences of young voters. Quinnipiac shows Biden losing ground, a trend supporting the argument that Biden’s support of Israel has hurt him with young voters. But Echelon shows exactly the opposite pattern. Their September polling shows a much tighter race between Biden and Trump than their more recent polling.
Can we make sense of this?