‘It's a hard sell': Gen-Z activists warn Biden over frustration among young voters

on ambitious climate and voting rights legislation. Young voters are critical to Joe Biden's election, but activists are concerned the administration could squander years of momentum on ambitious climate and voting rights legislation.

‘It's a hard sell': Gen-Z activists warn Biden over frustration among young voters


Joe Biden's election to the White House was a result of young voters. As his reelection bid begins, many activists are hesitant to endorse the president for fear that the administration will lose years of momentum.

Biden's 2020 campaign actively courted younger progressive voters in an effort to ignite the grassroots and heal the divisions in the party that were sparked by Donald Trump's 2016 election.

The relationship between the White House, and the young organizers, is now at a crossroads. President Obama and the Democratic Congress have made many promises, but failed to deliver on others. This frustrating reality has contributed to Biden’s plummeting approval rating among 18-29-year-olds.

The recent decision by the administration to approve a controversial drilling project in Alaska outraged young activists who's work during the last campaign had been crucial in building trust and excitement about a Biden Presidency. The White House responded by claiming that it was limited in its legal options because the project has already been approved by the Trump administration. The controversy has resurfaced old suspicions among youth voter groups that are aligned. They expressed concern that Biden and his senior aides seem increasingly determined to control the political center at any cost, including alienating an increasingly powerful voting block. In recent elections, young voters turned out in record numbers. They have also proven to be adept organizers, forming a web of interconnected groups that focus on issues such as climate change, immigration, gun control, student debt, LGBTQ rights, and health care.

It's hard to sell it to ourselves. How can we convince others if your own activists, who are supposed be the ones to convince other people, wonder, "Are we at all convinced whether he is doing a good job or not?" Noah Lumbantobing from the anti gun violence group March for Our Lives said: Biden has done some good things. He hasn't used his bully pulpit enough.

More than a dozen interviews conducted with leaders of leading youth groups, activists on the front lines, young Democratic strategists, and legislative aides reveal a generation of hyper-engaged, idealistic, and remarkably adept at wielding its power. They were formed during Trump's presidential term and the Covid-19 epidemic. They are fierce opponents of the right-wing political and cultural agenda, a fact that may ultimately triumph over their disappointment with Biden. But they also want to see leading Democrats earn their support, even if many of them are five or six decades old.

Several of them who requested anonymity to protect their relationships within the administration said that the Biden team was accessible and proactive when it came to asking for their feedback. They said, however, that their input is often ignored and the interactions feel a bit superficial.

Michele Weindling is the electoral director of the Sunrise Movement, an youth-led climate change group. She said: "We don't have to be convinced that Republicans are bad guys. We just need to fight them." We need to know not only why we are voting against the right but also what we are voting for.

Kevin Munoz, spokesman for the Biden 2020 campaign, noted that youth turnout was higher than usual during the election. He said the campaign would "work hard to earn each American's vote by using innovative methods to reach them and to highlight the stakes of the election."

Munoz said, "There is only one candidate who will fight and deliver on the most important issues for young voters." "And it's Biden."

Biden received this week an endorsement from NextGen, the leading youth voter turnout group. NextGen PAC president Cristina Tzintzun Ramirez stated in a press release that 'it is clear that Biden not only listens to us but also takes robust actions to signal to youth across the country that unimaginable change is possible'

The youth vote is on the rise

Democrats have been extolling the power of youth voters for generations. Liberals were expecting a strong shift to the left when the voting age dropped from 21 to 18 ahead of 1972's elections. The statistics, however, told a very different story. The youth turnout was middling, and the younger Americans weren't as liberal as their parents, at least not in the voting booth, like many had predicted.

Recent elections have changed this dynamic. Today's young voters are more liberal and likely to vote in that direction. Experts predict that by the fall of 2024 Gen-Z and Millennials – a group roughly encompassing those between 18 and 45 – will account for 40% of the voting population. The older generation, including Baby Boomers and Generation X, tends to vote for conservative candidates. This puts more pressure on Democrats to focus on issues that appeal to younger Americans.

The Biden campaign, along with the Democratic National Committee, are making early investments to reach these voters. An official from the Biden campaign told CNN they had a conference call last week with managers of social media influencers after the announcement. A spokesperson for the DNC said that they have partnered with gun violence prevention organizations 'on a series of training sessions to engage young voters on campuses and in schools'.

John Della Volpe is the polling director of the Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics, and author of "Fight: Gen Z's Fear and Passion for Saving America." He said that Biden's standing with young voters is much better than it was four years ago at this stage of the campaign, but is not quite as strong at the moment as he had been by Election Day.

Della Volpe said that the summer of 2020 was similar to where we are today, with many young people asking questions. She took a leave of absence that year to advise Biden's campaign. Della Volpe, who took leave that year to advise the Biden campaign, said: 'But I've always been incredibly confident young people will respond not only to his message but also to his values and his vision.

He added that Biden's challenge this time will be to convince young voters of the Democrats' achievements, including the massive investments in green technology in the Inflation Reduction Act, and the executive efforts to cancel as much as $400 billion worth of student debt.

Della Volpe added that there is also a psychological hurdle to be cleared for a new generation who has only experienced dysfunction and division at Washington and in the federal government.

He said that you cannot assume that younger people have ever had the same level of trust in the system. You need to take two or three steps when talking to this group. Other groups, who have a better connection with the government and elections can be done in just one or two.

Last week, Della Volpe, five students and the Harvard Youth Poll team visited Washington, DC to inform Biden's senior advisors and staff about the issues that matter to young people. This is a tradition that started during the Obama Administration.

Advocates agreed that the abortion issue was the best way for Biden's campaign to gain support among young voters and first-time voters. According to CIRCLE at Tufts University, the 2022 midterm elections saw a 27% turnout of the 18-to 29-year-old set. This is the second-highest rate after 2018 when it crossed 30%. This vote was months after the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, and abortion was on several state ballots. Last month, in Wisconsin, youth voters played an important role in the election of a liberal state Supreme Court Judge who is expected, with a new majority that leans left, to overturn Wisconsin's ban on abortion.

Teddy Landis, a 25-year old director of Project 72 WI helped organize on-campus campaigns ahead of the April elections. His efforts gained national attention when Judge Janet Protasiewicz beat out the recently reelected Democratic Governor. According to statistics from the group, Tony Evers received a majority of votes on campus. He said that the main reason for his vote was because of concerns about abortion, especially in states where it is illegal.

"In the autumn, there was an election on abortion. In the spring we will have another election that is also about abortion. Landis stated that she was worried about people becoming sick of the topic if it is all they hear. The reality is that people don't get sick of talking about abortion, and they care about it.

He added that this dynamic will become more prominent in the months to come as more young people feel the effects of anti abortion laws.

Republicans' parallel efforts at passing legislation aimed towards transgender youth creates a similar dynamic: genuine sorrow and anger over the real-life implications, but also the realization that the GOP may be overstepping and creating new opportunities for Democrats.

In the past year, more than 400 antitrans bills were introduced in state legislatures. These include many that ban gender affirming care for minors and certain books, as well as those that prohibit teachers from discussing certain topics in the classroom. Almost all of the Republican primary candidates for 2024 are using antitrans rhetoric and indicating support for federal legislation.

Trump called gender-affirming surgeries for minors 'child sexual abuse,' Florida Governor. Ron DeSantis has proposed a number of measures to make it harder for transgender people to get health care. Last week, the former South Carolina governor, Nikki Haley, mocked and misgendered Dylan Mulvaney, a transgender woman who is gaining popularity on social media. Nikki Haley made fun of and misgendered Dylan Mulvaney a social media influencer and transgender woman. She called her a 'guy dressing up as a girl and making fun of women'.

Biden has been vocal in his opposition to Republican attempts at state-level limits on the rights of youth transgender. His administration also wants a change in federal rules that would prevent policies that 'categorically" bar trans students from joining sports teams that match their gender. However, the push would allow schools to restrict these athletes in some ways - something that advocacy groups have resisted.

Esmee Silberman, co-founder and non-binary activist of Queer Youth Assemble, said: 'There are two sides that want to take our rights away, while the other side has completely wasted any chance to enshrine these rights.' Silverman also criticised the White House and Democrats, for failing to parlay their two-year governing trio on Capitol Hill into a "single piece of long-term solutions" for transgender individuals.

Biden is also a strong advocate of the Equality Act. This federal law prohibits discrimination in almost all areas of American life based on sexual orientation and gender identity. However, the legislation is stymied by a divided Congress. In June 2022 he signed an Executive Order directing the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services (HHS) to expand access to gender affirming care and to counter, as much as possible, the rising tide of legislation anti-trans in the states.

Biden told the crowd at the signing: 'My message for all young people is to be yourself. You are loved. You are heard. You are heard. You do belong.'

Landis, a campus organizer, stated that the GOP attacks will backfire in a political sense and that Biden can win over young voters who are skeptical by refusing to shy away from criticism.

He said that young voters were likely to be familiar with someone who was transgender or non-binary. When they hear these extreme Republicans talking about people they know, it makes them think twice before voting for that person.

Turning to the middle?

Biden's recent actions regarding climate change and immigration have been met with increasing criticism.

Recent headlines were made by the young activists of Climate Defiance, a youth-led group that interrupted a speech given by White House senior advisor John Podesta. The young activists disrupted the White House Correspondents Association Dinner a few days later and demanded that the president honour his promise to stop fossil-fuel extraction on public lands.

Justin Jones, a 27-year old Tennessee state representative who was voted off the body for a gun violence demonstration on the floor, before being reinstated by the Nashville Metropolitan Council, spoke at the protest over the weekend.

Jones, through a loudspeaker, said: 'I want to stand here with you.' We will continue the fight, and we will stay with the people. Because our generation has to deal with the long-term consequences of these decisions.

A young activist who has a large following on social media told CNN they believed 'the Administration is listening', but that the Willow Project - a massive oil project on Alaska's North Slope - and other expansions in the fossil fuel industry undermined other significant achievements.

'I appreciate