Opinion: If the alternative is Trump, why are young voters deserting Biden?

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I almost spit out my Geritol the other day when I read what one young voter in Philadelphia told NBC News about why she is disillusioned about the upcoming presidential election.

“I don’t think the presidency has too much of an effect on what happens in my day-to-day life,” said Pru Carmichael, who supported Biden in 2020 but says she will not vote for president at all this year if she has to choose between the disappointing incumbent and former President Trump.


Opinion Columnist

Robin Abcarian

Maybe she believes she will never have an unintended, unwanted pregnancy. (However, if she does, she is lucky enough to live in Pennsylvania, where abortion is still legal.)

But how can she not appreciate the profound changes the Trump presidency inflicted on this country? Had there been no President Trump, there would be no ultraconservative majority on the Supreme Court, no Dobbs decision overturning nearly half a century of reproductive rights, no outright abortion bans in 13 states and no suffering by people like Kate Cox of Texas, who was forced to seek abortion care in another state after the Texas Supreme Court said she could not abort her severely compromised fetus, who suffered a condition that was incompatible with life.

In 2020, the youngest American voters were squarely in Biden’s corner. According to exit polls, 65% of those 18 to 24 years old chose him, the largest percentage of any age group. And yet, if recent national polls are to be believed, voters up to age 34 have grown disenchanted with the president. Perhaps this is a reflection on the impatience of youth, or, worse, a fundamentally weak grasp on how government operates.

Listen to what younger voters told NBC News they’re upset about: the country’s slow pace on reversing climate change, Biden’s failure to fully cancel student loan debt, his inability to federally codify the right to abortion and, perhaps most starkly, his handling of Israel’s war against Hamas and the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

“I mean, he made a lot of really big promises in his campaign and virtually none of them were followed through on,” one poll respondent, Austin Kapp, 25, of Colorado, told NBC News.

Well, hey. The president doesn’t operate in a vacuum.

He did try to cancel student loan debt, and managed to erase nearly $132 billion of it, but the Supreme Court’s right-wing majority blocked his plan to cancel so much more.

He did try to codify Roe, but was unable to marshal the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster by Senate Republicans.

And what has Trump been doing about abortion, besides taking credit for the overturning of Roe vs. Wade? He’s urging Republicans to mislead voters: “In order to win in 2024, Republicans must learn how to properly talk about abortion,” he told a group of Iowa supporters in September. “This issue cost us unnecessarily but dearly in the midterms.”

We now know, thanks to the horrific experience of Cox and other women who have brought suit in Texas, that the idea of an “exception” to abortion bans for cases of rape, incest, fetal anomalies or the health of the pregnant person is nothing more than a shimmering lie, a mirage to make abortion bans slightly more palatable to the majority of Americans who support a woman’s right to choose.

As for the Middle East crisis, even if you agree that Biden’s handling of the situation has been uneven, why would anyone think Trump, an outspoken supporter of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, would handle it better, particularly if your sympathies lie more with the Palestinians caught in the violence than the Israeli government’s response to the Oct. 7 Hamas attack?

On the campaign trail, Trump has signaled a lack of engagement in the conflict, suggesting that he would “let this play out.” His one concrete suggestion? In an interview with Univision in November, he said that Israel needed to “do a better job of public relations, frankly, because the other side is beating them at the public relations front.”

He has also pledged to “revoke the student visas of radical anti-American and antisemitic foreigners at our colleges and universities, and we will send them straight back home.” (Muslim ban, anyone?) Does that sound like an appealing counter-message for the 70% of voters under 35 who told NBC News pollsters they disapprove of the way Biden has handled the war?

With 2024 upon us, and the first contests of the Republican presidential primaries set to take place on Jan. 15 in Iowa and on Jan. 23 in New Hampshire, barring some unforeseen development it could become clear very quickly that the much-indicted Trump is bound for the November ballot as the Republican presidential nominee.

A Suffolk University/USA Today poll released on New Year’s Day showed that Trump is out-polling Biden among groups the pollsters described as “stalwarts of the Democratic base,” that is, Hispanics and younger voters. Biden’s support among Black Americans has also slipped significantly, though he still leads Trump.

This is alarming, not catastrophic. Biden, and Democrats, have time to make their case. I remain skeptical that the Democratic base will not come home by November, particularly as Trump continues to embrace his inner dictator on the campaign trail.

“A Republican getting elected isn’t the end. It is the beginning of a much larger fight,” a 23-year-old Wisconsin Starbucks worker and union organizer who is considering withholding his vote from Biden told NBC News. “I want to show the Democratic Party as a young person that you still need to earn our vote and if you don’t, the consequences will be your career.”

Teach Democrats a lesson by electing a democracy-destroying authoritarian?

My mother used to call that cutting off your nose to spite your face.


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