Biden's problem with young voters

Joe Biden has two major problems on the foreign-policy front that intertwine with his political future. The first, and most pressing, is that not only do a significant number of young Democrats oppose his policies supporting Israel, they’re indicating that they will not vote for him in 2024 over it. Those voters may not follow through on that threat; they may well reconsider sitting out when faced with the real prospect of a second term of Donald Trump.

Back in 2020, Biden won young voters — those between the ages of 18 and 29 — nationally by an almost two-to-one margin, 59 percent to 35 percent. While Biden won the national popular vote by roughly 7 million votes, what really matters is the Electoral College, where “just 44,000 votes in Georgia, Arizona and Wisconsin separated Biden and Trump from a tie.” Throw in Biden’s 80,555-vote win in Pennsylvania, and we can calculate that Trump was about 124,000 votes away from winning a second term. Here are 2020 numbers for four states:

In Arizona, voters aged 18 to 29 made up 16 percent of the electorate — it’s a big retiree state — and exit polls indicated that Biden won those voters 63 percent to 32 percent.

In Georgia, voters aged 18 to 29 made up 20 percent of the electorate, and Biden won them 56 percent to 43 percent.

In Wisconsin, voters aged 18 to 29 made up 14 percent of the electorate, and Biden won them 59 percent to 36 percent.

In Pennsylvania, voters aged 18 to 29 made up just 7 percent of the electorate, and Biden won them 59 percent to 37 percent.

If the turnout among young voters shrinks compared to 2020, or that demographic is more evenly split, Trump is likely to win those states in a rematch.

In the most recent Quinnipiac poll, Biden’s approval rating is actually evenly split among respondents aged 65 or older — 49 percent approve and 49 percent disapprove. But among those between the ages of 18 and 35, only 30 percent approve and 65 percent disapprove.

Among seniors, 34 percent “strongly approve” of the job Biden is doing, while just 5 percent of voters in the 18–35 demographic do. This is something of a rebuttal to the stereotype of young liberals as well as that of old conservatives who watch Fox News or Newsmax.

When asked, “Do you approve or disapprove of the way Joe Biden is handling the response to the war between Israel and Hamas?,” just 22 percent of voters between the ages of 18 and 35 approve, while 68 percent disapprove. The numbers are roughly the same among self-identified Republicans — 22 percent approve, 73 percent disapprove.

(Also note that in the Quinnipiac poll, 5 percent of respondents between the ages of 18 and 35 told the pollster that they hadn’t heard enough about President Biden to have an opinion about him, and 3 percent said the same about Trump. Of course, we all know how shy Trump is, and how he prefers to avoid the spotlight and media attention.)

Curiously, in that Quinnipiac poll, young Democrats are generally okay with the way Biden is “handling the response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine,” with 46 percent approving and 48 percent disapproving. Some small but noticeable segment of young voters perceives Ukraine’s defense of itself against Russia as justified but Israel’s defense of itself against Hamas as not justified. I would bet that has a great deal to do with the difference in the way the U.S. media covers Ukraine’s military war against Russia (largely sympathetically) and the way it covers Israel’s war against Hamas (much more skeptically, with much more emphasis on Palestinian civilian casualties). For a long stretch, a national news media that can sniff out Russian propaganda and lies a mile away was bizarrely credulous about seemingly every claim put out by the Gaza Health Ministry.

(You can also find American journalism professors insisting that the Gaza Health Ministry is not controlled by Hamas, even though the Associated Press, the New York Times, CBS News, ABC News, NBC News, CNN, Voice of America, Reuters, the Guardian, PBS, former Reuters correspondents, etc. have all reported and confirmed that, in fact, it is. As Ronald Reagan said, “The trouble with our liberal friends is not that they’re ignorant, it’s just that they know so much that isn’t so.”)

Biden’s second major problem on the foreign-policy front that intertwines with his political future is that support for Ukraine, which used to be fairly bipartisan, is not as bipartisan as it used to be. As I noted last week, a solid majority on Capitol Hill still supports continued aid to Ukraine, with just about all of the Democrats and roughly half of the Republicans in favor of it. But the trend is moving in a worrisome direction for those of us who want to see Ukraine continue to resist Russian attempts at conquest.

Biden — more likely, his speechwriting team — wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post, tying the two wars together as a joint priority:

Both Putin and Hamas are fighting to wipe a neighboring democracy off the map. And both Putin and Hamas hope to collapse broader regional stability and integration and take advantage of the ensuing disorder. America cannot, and will not, let that happen. For our own national security interests — and for the good of the entire world.

You can argue that no president actually moves polling numbers. But public opinion does change on certain issues and at certain times, and if you’re going to enjoy the bully pulpit of the presidency, you might as well try to persuade anyone out there who’s persuadable. I think Biden is particularly bad at this. For far too long, Biden primarily defended U.S. assistance to Ukraine as preserving a “rules-based international order,” a fairly nebulous and abstract notion to the average American.

In that Post op-ed, Biden took steps to argue that helping Ukraine is in the U.S. national interest, as opposed to some vague global interest:

We know from two world wars in the past century that when aggression in Europe goes unanswered, the crisis does not burn itself out. It draws America in directly. That’s why our commitment to Ukraine today is an investment in our own security. It prevents a broader conflict tomorrow.

But for nearly two years now, we’ve been hearing hard-headed, national-interest arguments in support of helping Ukraine from the likes of Marc Thiessen and Luke Coffey at the Hudson Institute, among others. As Thiessen laid out earlier this year, a Russian defeat, or at least maximizing the cost to Russia for every square inch of Ukrainian territory it occupies, is more likely to deter Chinese aggression; weaken the Beijing–Moscow alliance; eliminate the future threat of Russian military aggression against the rest of Europe; allow us to see how our weaponry works in the modern, high-tech, drone-focused battlefield; help provide a long-overdue jump start to our defense-industrial base; strengthen our alliances and encourage our allies to carry more of their own defense burden; reinforce nuclear nonproliferation that has gotten shaky; and reinforce the message that crossing the U.S. carries severe consequences.

If Biden wants more support for Ukraine from House Republicans, he’s got to make the argument in terms designed to persuade them, not just the folks who are already on his side.

Similarly, if Biden wants more support for Israel from young progressive Democrats, he’s got to make the argument in terms designed to persuade them, not just the folks already on his side. Many of us on the right have chuckled at the absurdity of young lefties who support gay rights, trans rights, women’s rights, religious freedom, academic freedom, freedom of expression, abortion rights,* democracy, and free elections suddenly convincing themselves that the Hamas-run Gaza Strip is some sort of progressive paradise. But has any figure, such as an American president, ever told these young people, “Your bizarre and complicated rules regarding intersectionality have left you cheering for a regime that embodies everything you oppose and cheering against a democracy that embodies everything you claim to support”?

Or does Joe Biden fear making that argument? Does the Biden team fear that pointing out the glaring and obvious cognitive dissonance of young progressives would be such an insult to these people that they would permanently oppose the incumbent president?

*Ye gods, did that Corner post infuriate people on both sides. Pro-choice progressives really hate being informed that they’re supporting a regime that bans abortion in almost all cases, and there were some pro-Israel folks who seemed to think I was arguing that pro-lifers shouldn’t support Israel. Nope, just pointing out the irony, which is apparently a thoughtcrime in some circles.

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