As Biden Courts Gen Z Vote, Voters Feel ‘Powerless’ to a Growing ‘Gerontocracy’ That Doesn’t Represent Them

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“Too much is on the line for young voters this November, which is why this campaign is investing early and going everywhere,” the Biden campaign tells TheWrap

People watch the presidential debate between U.S. President Joe Biden and presumptive Republican nominee, former President Donald Trump at Wicked Willy's in New York City
People watch the presidential debate between Joe Biden and Donald Trump in New York City (Credit: Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

Fallout after Thursday night’s CNN debate has left younger voters widely disillusioned with their options for the presidency.

The dismal, inarticulate performance by 81-year-old President Joe Biden, and the Democratic party’s growing divide has many prominent figures — including in Hollywood — officially calling for Biden to bow out of the 2024 race. And that has seemingly sowed greater discontent within a key subset of supporters: the youth vote.

“It highlighted this gerontocracy,” Rachel Janfaza, a politics reporter and founder of “The Up and Up,” a digital news site covering “young people and our politics,” told TheWrap. “These two older men are the ones who are at the forefront of their respective parties, and that is just not emblematic of the American electorate, and especially not emblematic of many young voters.” 

Polling from The New York Times and Siena College on Wednesday confirmed the generational divide within the Democratic Party. Only 56% of Democrats under 45 expressed approval of President Biden, while 90% older than 45 rated him positively. Overall, 77% of Democrats under 45 specifically found Biden too old for office.

The calls for Biden to relinquish his place atop the Democratic ticket have not abated, with cable news pundits, political leaders and major party donors publicly brainstorming potential replacements.

He’s heard the complaints. According to a second Times report Wednesday, Biden told a “key ally” that he understands he may not be able to salvage his candidacy if he cannot convince the public that he is capable of handling the presidency. But publicly he has vowed to stay in the race and is still expected to run for reelection.

His campaign says it remains committed to securing the shaken youth vote.

“Too much is on the line for young voters this November, which is why this campaign is investing early and going everywhere — from college parties, to soccer matches, to Snapchat and TikTok — to ensure young voters know that there is only one candidate fighting for us and our democracy and that’s Joe Biden,” Eve Levenson, national director of youth engagement for the Biden-Harris campaign, told TheWrap exclusively. 

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks during a ceremony at the Normandy American Cemetery on the 80th anniversary of D-Day on June 06, 2024
President Joe Biden (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Last Thursday, Janfaza and a group of politically minded Gen Zers crammed into a Chinatown warehouse called The Bench, a new hub for young culture and politics enthusiasts in New York City. They were but a small fraction of the over 50 million who turned into CNN’s first presidential debate, simulcast across 22 other networks. Whether they tuned in live, on a TikTok livestream or just saw the memes the next day, young voters inevitably embraced this year’s election reality and their options: two candidates, Biden and Donald Trump, past the average life expectancy of an American man.

At their debate watch, “There wasn’t much chatter,” Janfaza said. “Everyone’s eyes were glued to the TV. I saw some people’s heads in their hands. There were a couple of gasps at times.”

Biden might not have made it into office without Gen Z voters back in 2020. But after witnessing four years of Biden wearing the weight of the world on his shoulders, Janfaza expressed concern, noting that Gen Z “really can be a decisive force in the November election.”

Joe Mitchell, the youngest member elected to the Iowa State House of Representatives, told TheWrap that Biden’s Thursday showing was not only a poor debate performance but a “very bad look for the country.” Mitchell founded the organization Run GenZ for young conservative leaders.

“It was obviously a disaster for Joe Biden. That’s very objective,” Mitchell said. “Our adversaries are watching that.”

Will GenZ turn out in November?

The latest Harvard Youth Poll from April found that only 9% of young Americans say the country is headed in the right direction, citing economic concerns and reproductive freedom as top priorities. In the same poll, 53% indicated they will “definitely be voting” in the 2024 general election for president. That is on par with the Institute of Politics’ data from 2020, which found 54% of young Americans would likely vote.

Jack Lobel said he will vote in his first presidential election this fall. He’s been registering young people with the organization Voters of Tomorrow while still a teen. He serves as press secretary for the group, which joined 14 other youth vote organizations in endorsing President Biden for reelection in March. Lobel said that even after his debate performance, the fundamental choice for him remains the same.

“We saw two old guys, but one is an old guy who is convicted felon, who has been found liable of sexual assault, who led an insurrection and who would restrict access to abortion and other forms of health care,” Lobel told TheWrap. “The other is an old guy who has delivered time and time again for Gen Z’s top priorities and listens to us. In that regard, nothing has changed.”

When asked about their own approach to reaching Gen Z voters, the Trump campaign criticized the current administration.

“Joe Biden’s policies have created a more expensive, divided and dangerous country for young Americans to grow up in, and that’s why he’s losing significant ground with this demographic in the polls,” Karoline Leavitt, the Trump campaign national press secretary, told TheWrap. “On the contrary, President Trump will create a safe, prosperous and free nation that helps all young people achieve their American Dream.”

In attempts to meet young voters where they are, both campaigns have amped up social media efforts, particularly on TikTok. Andrew Roth, founder and CEO of Gen Z research and strategy firm dcdx, warned of the risks to a social media-centered campaign. A study from the firm released last Friday showed 58% of Gen Zers still find mainstream news more trustworthy than social media, comment sections and word of mouth. Roth explained that social media can muddy the existence of moderates, undecidedness and objectivity.  

“The lack of independent thinking is at an all time high,” he said. “It’s a danger in politics, because it just forms a mob mentality and echo chambers … It’s like no matter what you do, what you vote, whatever changes or whoever goes to prison or gets indicted, it doesn’t matter, we’re in the same spot. You feel powerless.”

The fight for the White House is far from over. Two landmark Supreme Court decisions released in the days following the debate — one with significant implications for the executive office in that it granted Trump immunity from criminal prosecution for “official acts” — fired up the Biden-Harris campaign amid growing concerns for the future of the Presidency.

“Thanks to his Supreme Court justices, Donald Trump is running to be a king who will be able to do basically anything he wants to ruin young people’s lives if he’s elected,” Levenson said.

Biden sat for his first televised interview since the debate this week with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos, the first clip of which will debut Friday night on “World News Tonight With David Muir.” The network will run extended versions of the interview through Monday.

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