The Townhall

The Enemy of the Good

The Enemy of the Good

By J. Simpson

Why Young Voters are Abandoning the Democratic Party

French philosopher and satirist Voltaire once famously said “The perfect is the enemy of the good,” meaning that striving for purity or perfection often prevents gradual progress in the right direction. Despite the Biden Administration being one of the most progressive in nearly half a century, supporting everything from renewable energy to mandatory overtime to LGBTQIA+ rights, voters who have traditionally voted Democratic have been abandoning the party in droves. This shift isn’t entirely due to an increasingly polarized political landscape, as many of the grievances unearthed in several in-depth studies are entirely valid. Instead, it’s a reflection of a growing cynicism towards mainstream politics. 

In December of last year, NBC News published an article titled “Young voters explain why they’re bailing on Biden — and whether they’d come back.” The author, Bianca Sewards, leads with several examples of disillusioned young voters from around the country, ranging from Northern California to Pennsylvania. The opening quotes Evan McKenzie, a 23-year-old union organizer working at Starbucks, who expressed dissatisfaction at President Biden’s performance over the last four years.  According to McKenzie,

I genuinely could not live with myself if I voted for someone who’s made the decisions that Biden has. I didn’t even feel great about voting for Biden in 2020.

Neoliberal Skepticism

This skepticism is mirrored in a poll from NBC News issued around that time for Biden, whose approval rating fell to an all-time low of 40% in the wake of the Israel-Hamas Conflict. This decline in confidence even allowed former President Donald Trump to take the lead over President Biden in most polls, especially in the key battleground states.

The NBC News article talked to a number of the young voters polled about their dissatisfaction with President Biden – and the Democratic Party more generally. Some reported disapproval of President Biden’s response to climate change. Others expressed anger at his inability to cancel student debt. Outrage over President Biden’s reluctance to codify Roe V. Wade was another chief cause of not being able to vote Democrat in good conscience. The Israel-Hamas Conflict was by far the leading cause for discontent, however, with a staggering 70% of voters under the age of 35 disapproving of President Biden’s international policy. 

Several of the young voters interviewed by NBC felt that voting for President Biden gives the Democratic Party the message they don’t have to do anything to earn young people’s votes. Delving deeper, it also indicates an overriding frustration with the government. President Biden tried to codify Roe V. Wade but was blocked by a conservative House of Representatives. Democratic politicians preach about climate change as an existential threat and yet President Biden approved the Willow oil drilling project in Alaska despite running on an eco-friendly platform.

Others in the NBC News report are unwilling to support President Biden as official statements on issues like the economy don’t line up with their lived experience. These discrepancies are in-line with several key findings from a recent study from Harvard, which delves deeper into young voter’s waning support for the Biden Administration.

Key Findings of the Harvard Youth Report

Young voters aren’t simply abandoning President Biden. Many are ceasing to vote altogether, as reported in the 46th Edition of the Harvard Youth Report,  published in Fall 2023. According to the Harvard Youth Report, the number of young people who planned on voting went from 57% to 49%. It is estimated the young voter turnout was 54.1% for 2020.

35% of young adults are affiliated with the Democratic Party. 26% affiliate with the Republican Party. 38% say they are unaffiliated or likely to vote independently. 

Young adults with college degrees still plan on voting in the coming election, falling from 73% in the Fall of 2019 to 69% in the Fall of 2023. There’s been a sharper drop in young adults without college degrees, dropping from 48% to 40% for the upcoming election cycle.

Some of the steepest drop-offs come from Black and Hispanic youth, followed by women and younger cohorts. The number of young Black Americans who plan to vote in the upcoming election fell from 50% to 38%. The numbers for younger Hispanic American voters are even more dire, dropping a full 16% from 56% to 40%. Support from young women fell almost as far, with a 9% decrease from 56% to 47%. Voters between the ages of 18 and 24 fell from 56% to 46%.

These falling numbers don’t necessarily indicate that young voters are becoming more conservative or Trump supporters. In Fall 2023, President Biden still led Donald Trump by 11%, 41% to 30%. In fact, a heavy majority of young voters are supporting President Biden in direct defiance of the 45th President, with 69% reporting their vote is in opposition to Donald Trump rather than in support of President Biden. 

This is also where fissures start to show, as the introduction of third-party candidates decreases Biden’s lead substantially. When Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Joe Manchin, and Cornel West are added to the list, President Biden’s support drops to 29% as opposed to 25% for Donald Trump. This disparity suggests young voters are simply fed up with the status quo and are looking for an alternative.

When pressed about which candidate they trusted more on 13 important issues, ranging from the Israel – Hamas conflict to abortion rights and climate change, four reported trusting President Biden as opposed to three for Trump. Tellingly, six reported trusting neither candidate.

Cognitive dissonance between official reports and young people’s lived experience is a major driver of the cynicism and mistrust  Many young voters report being either very or moderately satisfied with their personal finances while simultaneously holding a dire view of the American economy.

Follow-up questions report young voters being pro-labor union and skeptical of AI and automation. They also lean heavily pro-abortion, ramping up to 44% from 36% in 2016.

Some of these findings may be due to young voter’s lack of life experience, but others indicate a mistrust of official messaging and a cynicism towards official solutions. Unless something is done, and soon, these hairline fractures in our national consciousness could widen into uncrossable chasms, hurling us into an abyss of social unrest.

The Rise of the Outsider Left

In a report from November 2021, Beyond Red vs. Blue: The Political Typology, the Pew Research Center defined a new political category – the Outsider Left. They describe the cohort as “young, liberal, discontented Democrats.” According to Pew, the Outsider Left makes up 10% of the public. They are 8% of registered voters and constituted 9% of confirmed votes in 2020. Over half of the Outsider Left describe themselves as independent but leaning towards the Democratic Party. About 20% describe their political views as very liberal.

Digging into the attitudes and beliefs of the Outsider Left offers a fairly extensive overview of the grievances of many of the voters abandoning the Democratic Party. For example, over 90% believe the economic system in the United States favors the rich and powerful. Almost half believe the government is bloated and inefficient. Some of their other beliefs represent the most extreme attitudes of liberals and progressives, ranging from defunding the police to free college tuition. These stats serve as a fairly in-depth analysis of the most extreme attitudes in the nation. 

What This Means For The 2024 Election… And Beyond 

The protests around the Israel-Hamas conflict on college campuses have been capturing headlines for the last few weeks. A deeper analysis suggests the Biden Administration’s Israeli policy won’t play a major role in the coming election, as noted by ABC News. The newest edition of the Harvard Youth Poll, released in April 2024, finds that Israel/Palestine ranks low on the list of issues. Only 37% of young voters who plan on voting Democrat report Israel/Palestine being a pressing concern. This number isn’t that different from young Independent and Republican voters, at 32%. Among young Democratic voters, Inflation, Healthcare, Housing, and Gun Violence are of much greater importance, at 58%, 63%, 62%, and 67% respectively.

One of the most important insights buried in the Harvard Youth Poll, President Biden’s support is much higher among young voters who are definitely planning on voting. Among young voters in general, President Biden only leads Donald Trump by 8%. Among likely voters, that margin expands to 19%. At the moment, the number of young people planning on voting in November is comparable to 2020, at 53%. Therefore, the first and most obvious thing the Democratic Party can do to drum up support is to engage young voters. If they were to pair this with some actual support on policies people care about, like inflation and housing, there’s every evidence they’ll vote for the incumbent President come November.

Referring back to the Harvard Youth Study, which remains one of the most actionable insights into the thoughts and beliefs of young voters, one of the best things we can do for the health of American civic life is to engage more heavily in civic education. Two-thirds of young Americans who plan to “definitely vote” in the 2024 general election said that their high school education taught them the importance of their vote.

It’s likely too late for such education to have much of an impact on the 2024 election. More generally, If the Democratic Party wants to re-energize its base, it needs to show actual commitment to the policies that people care about. Refusing to entertain rich and powerful lobbyists would probably do much more than 100 PR campaigns. The fault doesn’t lie entirely with the Democratic Party, however. Voters need to stop thinking of politics as a Cult of Personality. The President has a lot of power, but he’s just one cog in a very large machine. President Biden doesn’t have the power to stop the war in Israel single-handedly. He can’t reverse climate change all by himself. Allowing a twice-impeached lame duck President back in office because he doesn’t back 100% of every single pet issue is the definition of cutting off a nose to spite the face. As New York Times columnist Pamela Paul noted in November 2023, in an article titled “The Democrats Are Their Own Worst Enemies,” quoting the influential book by John B. Judis and Ruy Teixeira Where Have All The Democrats Gone? 

The Democratic Party has had its greatest success when it sought to represent the common man and woman against the rich and powerful, the people against the elite, and the plebeians against the patricians.

Until the Democratic Party returns to caring about the needs and very real concerns of everyday Americans, they’re likely to continue to hemorrhage support – and rightfully so. Young voters have every right to feel disenfranchised and cynical. The current two-party system is badly broken and something needs to be done about it by someone

J. Simpson

Tags: , , , ,
Previous Post
Mastering Web3 Wealth
Next Post
Demographic Rug Pull

Related Articles

Tags: , , , ,