Young Voters Say They Aren’t Enthusiastic About Joe Biden Presidency

Shown are demonstrators Saturday, June 6, 2020 near the White House in Washington (Alex Brandone, AP)

WASHINGTON – Perry Green doesn’t believe that Joe Biden is listening to what young, Black Americans want right now.

Across the country, young people are protesting systemic racism and calling on political leaders to reallocate funding from local police to other community resources. Green, who is Black, criticized Biden for not supporting the “Defund the Police” movement that many activists support.

“You got Black youth across the country, calling for defunding the police and thinking differently about law enforcement, and … a couple days later, in the midst of all the protests … (Biden’s) campaign says ‘Let’s spend more money on community policing,'” Green told USA TODAY.

Green, 34, lives in Alameda, California, and said he’s still undecided on whether he will vote for Biden after supporting Sen. Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary. But he added if he was living in a swing state like Ohio, Michigan or Pennsylvania, he would be voting for Biden.

“I think that if I were to see the campaign attempt to engage with more grassroots leaders, that would make me feel a little more encouraged about voting for Biden,” Green said.

With the November election four months away, polling shows Biden’s support with younger Black voters trailing significantly behind that of older Black voters. And while polls show the majority of young Black voters support Biden over President Donald Trump, many are unenthusiastic at best or hesitant at worst.

Black voters of all ages have been a pillar of the Democratic party’s coalition for decades and strong turnout from the Black community, particularly in key battleground states such as Michigan and Florida, will be key for Biden to take the White House in November.

“I think this is a time for Joe Biden to be explicitly clear on his stances,” said Stefanie Brown James, who led Obama for America’s effort to engage African American leaders and voters in 2012. “Don’t skirt around the issue. Talk to these young people directly, and then have policies that he’s championing to show how he wants to push for this progressive change to happen.”

Data shows split between older and younger Black voters

Younger voters who came of age during President Obama’s administration, where Biden was vice president, have higher expectations of their politicians, and likely want to see a more progressive Democrat in office, said Chryl Laird, assistant professor of government at Bowdoin College and author of “Steadfast Democrats: How Social Forces Shape Black Political Behavior.”

“(Young Black voters) are going to have some reservations about Joe Biden,” Laird said, adding that Biden represents “a very clear image of a status quo politician within the Democratic Party.”

Older voters, and particularly older Black voters, are more pragmatic when it comes to deciding who to vote for because they have seen that change takes time, Laird said.

Biden has had “moments of problematic commentary or statements,” Laird said. “And they don’t really see him as the direction that takes the party in a more progressive lean.”

Demonstrators protest Saturday, June 6, 2020, near the White House in Washington.
Shown are demonstrators Saturday, June 6, 2020 near the White House in Washington (Alex Brandone, AP)

Still, voting for the Democratic candidate is the norm within the Black community, Laird said, and young Black voters will likely fall in lineA Pew Research Center study this year found that the majority (68%) of Black Democrats described themselves as either moderate or conservative. But in 2016, for example, 89% of all Black voters supported Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

“I don’t imagine any (young Black voters) going to vote, if they are planning to vote, and voting for Donald Trump,” she said, adding that they will likely vote for Biden but not be happy about it.

James noted it’s “a critical year for young Black voters to be engaged and feel as though they are a part of the process.” Because young voters “are not waiting” and will “move forward how they feel is best,” James said, it’s crucial for Biden to take a step back and meet with young activists in this moment.

“Being able to say, in no minced words, ‘Yes, I know that Black lives matter because x, y, and z,’ ” is important, said James, who is also CEO of Vestige Strategies and co-founder of Collective PAC.

Aerial Langston, 31, said she will likely vote for Biden in November because the alternative would be voting for the current president. But Langston, who is from Houston, Texas, also said she would like to see Biden be more cautious with his words.

“I need someone who could carry America with a little bit more dignity and I won’t be so ashamed to be like, ‘Oh, that’s my president. Period,’ ” she said.

Amid nationwide protests against police brutality and systemic racism, young Black voters, who have taken the lead in many of the demonstrations, are more skeptical of Biden, according to an analysis from the Democracy Fund + UCLA Nationscape project published in May in the Washington Post.

The analysis found:

  • 91% of Black voters 65 and up said they plan to vote for Biden.
  • 68% of Black voters from ages 18 to 29 said they planned to vote for Biden – more than 20 percentage points fewer than Black voters 65 and up
  • In the 2016 election, Democrat Hillary Clinton drew 85% of young Black voter support, and won 93% of Black seniors.
  • 13% of Black voters ages 18 to 29 said they plan to vote for Trump.

A recent Washington Post/Ipsos poll published in June found that 92% of Black registered voters said they plan to vote for Biden in November. But it was a near even split as to why: 50% of the Black registered voters surveyed said it was mainly because they oppose Trump, while 49% said they mainly support Biden.

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