Young Democrats warn Biden he must quickly change course

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Young Democratic voters are sounding the alarm and warning President Biden that his reelection bid could be in jeopardy if he doesn’t change course on the issues that matter most to them, including the war in Gaza. 

While they have soured on Biden on a range of issues from cost of living to climate issues, the rash of protests at college campuses around the country has been the latest point of contention with the president. 

“He will lose the election if he decides to roll the dice and assumes that Gaza isn’t at the top of minds right now,” said Elise Joshi, the executive director of Gen-Z for Change —which was once run under the name TikTok for Biden.

Joshi added that the last six months have seen “an increasing pace of concern” about the president. 

The crisis in Gaza has been a tipping point for many young voters, and some polls have shown support dissolving for Biden.

Last month, a Harvard Youth Poll showed that Biden’s support from voters ages 18-29 had slipped from about 60 percent in 2020 to 45 percent.  

A CNN poll last weekend also revealed that Biden was 11 percentage points behind Trump in a head-to-head match-up among young voters.  

Some say Biden isn’t addressing some of the issues that matter most to young voters. 

“I don’t think the president is currently meeting young voters enough,” said Kidus Girma, campaign director at the Sunrise Movement, a political action organization that advocates for action on climate change. “We’re paying attention.” 

Girma said it’s “in the interest of the president to run on a progressive mandate” to speak to those voters. 

On the issue of Gaza, he said, it will come down to Biden’s approach in the coming months. 

“It’s critical that President Biden recognize the voices of young people calling for peace in Gaza,” Girma said. “The Americans are calling for the end of unconditional military aid and a permanent cease-fire. The quickest way to end the unrest on college campuses is to listen to the majority of Americans and young students fighting for what is right.” 

On Thursday, Biden was critical of the recent protests on college campuses, condemning vandalism and trespassing, adding that protesters at Columbia University and other campuses had the right to demonstrate peacefully.

“In moments like this, there are always those who rush in to score political points,” the president said in a speech at the White House. “But this isn’t a moment for politics. It’s a moment for clarity. So let me be clear … Violent protest is not protected. Peaceful protest is.” 

“Destroying property is not a peaceful protest, it’s against the law,” Biden added. “Vandalism, trespassing, breaking windows, shutting down campuses, forcing the cancellation of classes and graduation. None of this is a peaceful protest — threatening people, intimidating people. 

“Dissent is essential to democracy, but dissent must never lead to disorder,” he added. 

Joshi, the Gen Z for Change director, blasted Biden’s comments, calling them “shameful.”

“To paint us as violent when police are the ones tear-gassing, shooting, and beating students, especially knowing he was elected in large part due to Black Lives Matter, is utterly shameful,” Joshi said. 

An aide who worked on Biden’s 2020 campaign said the president’s remarks reflect the public’s overwhelming view on the protests.  

Biden campaign aides say they have a “robust” operation to engage young voters and lure them to their column. Campaign aides say they have launched a youth outreach effort earlier than in previous cycles. 

Since launching the campaign, they have also run digital ads targeting younger voters, including a current $30 million ad campaign. 

The campaign has also leaned on surrogates including social media influencers to continue to highlight the administration’s policy wins, and separately in March it launched “Students for Biden-Harris,” a national organizing program that will help reach students across campuses. 

Santiago Mayer, the executive director of Voters of Tomorrow, said the Biden administration actively engaged with the demographic.  

“This is the first administration that has not only invited young people to the White House but has actively listened to us,” said Mayer, who has met with administration officials a number of times to discuss issues including gun violence prevention and climate issues. “They’re looking at young people as governing partners.”

Speaking of the protests at colleges, he said they’re directed not so much at the administration but at the leadership of their universities. 

Matt Duss, executive vice president of the Center for International Policy, who also served as a foreign policy adviser to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), said the Biden administration has been “the most progressive administration of my lifetime,” bolstering issues that are important to young voters including student debt relief. 

Still, he said of the administration’s handling of the crisis in Gaza, “I don’t want to say it cancels it out, but it resonates in a serious way that does tend to overshadow in some young people’s minds — and some older people’s minds — all the good things he’s done.” 

Given the choice between Biden and former President Trump, he predicted that many of the young voters who are protesting the administration’s inaction in Gaza will come home to Biden during the election. 

But he cautioned that Biden’s handling of the situation in Gaza “is going to be a drag” on the reelection bid. 

“It’s impossible to say how big of a drag, but it’s going to be a close election that even something that hurts him at the margins could make a difference,” Duss said. 

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