As the 2024 political landscape begins to take shape, the Democrats have a new problem: young voters are distancing themselves from the party according to recent polls and analyses, which suggest that the once-reliable demographic may be shifting right.
Anxiety within Democratic circles has intensified following a series of polls suggesting a decline in the number of young people identifying as Democrats. While President Biden rode the wave of youth support to victory in 2020, recent indicators paint a different picture. The shrinking allegiance to the party among young voters could spell trouble for the Democrats' prospects in the upcoming election cycle.
"Nearly every sign that made me confident in historic levels of youth participation in 2018, 2020, and 2022 — is now flashing red," according to John Della Volpe, the polling director at the Harvard Kennedy Institute of Politics, adding "the ground is more fertile for voting when youth believe voting makes a tangible difference.
25-year-old TikTok influencer Cheyenne Hunt, a Democrat who's running to become the first female GenZ member of Congress, has cautioned the Democratic party not to sleep on younger voters.
"There’s less of a sense of loyalty to a particular party, I think, and more of a sense of really taking a look at the system and feeling left behind and forgotten — and young people engage with passionate candidates who are going to jump in there and do the dirty work to advocate for our best interests," Hunt told The Hill.
According to Hunt, Gen Z has felt let down by their government, which they feel needs to meet them "where they are" on the issues.
"We are one of the most politically mobilized generations in American history, judging by the turnout numbers after the last midterms, and we are in a place now where you have to constantly engage us. And I understand why, you know? You look at the system and the status quo, and a lot of younger folks feel really betrayed," said Hunt, a candidate for California's 45th district.
The Rise of Independent Affiliation
As young voters gravitate away from established party affiliations, the Democratic Party confronts a generation that places less emphasis on partisan loyalty. The rise of independent and unaffiliated identification among young Americans has raised questions about the party's ability to secure their support. This trend bucks historical patterns, where previous generations often aligned with a particular party as they aged.
In 2019, 39 percent of respondents in the Harvard Youth Poll reported identifying as Democrat — and the figure fell slightly to 35 percent this spring. The share of youth voters identifying as independents or “unaffiliated with a major party,” on the other hand, climbed from 36 percent in 2019 to 40 percent this year. The share of youth voters identifying as Republican saw a statistically insignificant shift from 23 percent to 24 percent.
Della Volpe argued that although young voters appear to be getting more progressive in their values, fewer are identifying as Democrat or liberal, are paying close attention to political news and are likely to believe in politics as a means for system change. The share of younger voters who say they’ll “definitely” vote in the 2024 race is now at 51 percent in the Harvard poll, down from 55 percent who said the same at this point in the 2020 race. -The Hill
According to Volpe, "daylight's burning" for the Democrats, who need to woo young voters "to win today and maintain and grow an electoral edge in the years ahead."
In short, sentiment among many young voters is clear: the focus is shifting from party allegiance to substantive issues and candidates who can effect real change.
Meanwhile, efforts by the Biden administration to address key issues affecting young Americans, such as gun violence and climate change, are acknowledged but may be falling short in terms of communication. Bridging the gap between policy initiatives and awareness remains a crucial challenge for the administration.
Antjuan Seawright, a Democratic strategist, emphasizes the need for education on the legislative achievements resulting from young voters' support in past elections. The party must effectively communicate its accomplishments and stand in stark contrast to perceived "existential threats."
President Biden's age is yet another issue among younger voters. As the oldest sitting president, he would be 86-years-old by the end of a possible second term.
That isn't such a big issue, according to Tzintzún Ramirez, president of youth voting organization NextGen America, which has endorsed the Biden 2024 campaign.
"I think this is the first election in my lifetime where we’re going to see increased and hyper-focus on young voters from Democratic candidates," said Ramirez. "It is true that young people, a significant percentage, see themselves as independents, but they overwhelmingly vote for Democrats because they care about progressive policy."
That said, she did admit that "there's a huge portion" of young voters who still need to be "persuaded."
"And that’s what we really see from the Harvard poll, is that young people still need to be told why their vote matters, but they are overwhelmingly progressive in their worldview."