Why The Young American Vote Won’t Impact Biden

Why The Young American Vote Won’t Impact Biden

Voting patterns in America are more complex than what the mainstream media would have us believe. The ‘uncommitted’ voters have been highlighted only because of the war in Gaza, but they may not amount to much

Sachin KalbagUpdated: Wednesday, May 08, 2024, 08:30 PM IST
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US President Joe Biden | File/AFP

Several leading American universities at present are under siege by two things: 1) Students, and 2) The shortsightedness of their managements, who have abdicated administrative responsibilities and handed them over to law enforcement. Following nationwide protests against the Israeli military offensive in Gaza that has left nearly 35,000 Palestinians dead, universities around the US allowed the police to take action against their students. In some cases, like Columbia University in New York, administrations have cancelled graduation ceremonies, locked up hostels and dorm rooms, and cancelled all classes, leaving thousands of students in the lurch.

These intense student protests led to an obvious question — has President Joe Biden lost the youth vote? It is a legitimate question, because young voters in America have traditionally been voting for the Democratic Party (to which Biden belongs). But not only is Biden not listening to the students, he has doubled down on Washington’s support to Tel Aviv by pushing for more dollars in aid.

On March 29, the Biden administration authorised the transfer of billions of dollars’ worth of bombs and fighter jets to Israel. Of the $3.8 billion in military aid given to Israel this year, half a billion was for Israel's missile defence. Washington has announced that it will replenish Israel's ammunition used in the recent war against Hamas.

In April, Biden signed a $95bn security package which included around $17bn in military aid for Israel and just $1bn in humanitarian aid for Gaza.

Recently, The New Yorker magazine quoted Aaron David Miller, a former State Department official, as saying, “Do I think that Joe Biden has the same depth of feeling and empathy for the Palestinians of Gaza as he does for the Israelis? No, he doesn’t.”

Not surprising then, that one of the epithets to have emerged in the middle of all this is “Genocide Joe.”

Biden has a two-body problem for this November’s election. One, he has to retain the White House not just for the Democrats but to retain the overall sanity of America and the rest of the world. Two, he has to wrest back the House of Representatives from the Republicans who have thrown spanner after spanner in Biden’s path this term to get even the most basic of legislations passed. And, have threatened impeachment proceedings against him.

The option to Biden is Donald Trump, the only presidential candidate in American history to have asked a porn star to spank him with a magazine and to have participated in a gold tournament part-sponsored by a leading porn film company (if you are really interested, the company’s name is Wicked Pictures). Trump’s first term — like his 2024 presidential campaign — was characterised by bigotry, hatred, lies, misdirected policies, antagonising allies and befriending arch enemies, and generally making America the laughing stock. America needs Biden not because Biden is a great President, but to keep Trump and the ensuing chaos out.

Which brings us to the question we asked at the beginning: How much does the youth vote matter to Biden, and will it change the course of history? Potentially, it can. But in reality, it may not. Historically, America has been a low-voting country. Rarely does its presidential election voting percentage cross 60%. In the last 10 elections, Americans have broken the 60% barrier just once, in the 2020 election when Biden won comprehensively. In fact, the last time Americans crossed 60% in a presidential poll was 1968 — 56 years ago.

The youth demographic (this includes young Jews, a contextually important sub-group) is worse. In the 18-24 age group, the voting percentage in the last seven elections is around 39%. It is abysmally low. The age groups that turn up the most to vote in the US are 45-64 and 65-plus. Both groups record over 65% in any election, and in the last where Biden won, 72% of those eligible in the 65-plus age group turned up to vote.

According to the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Biden’s support for Israel is not necessarily increasing his votes among the Jewish population. His constituency, it would therefore seem, is not secular to the extent that they are willing to support him over domestic issues rather than foreign policy concerns.

Prof Steven Windmueller of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Los Angeles writes: “Historically, most American Jewish voters have been aligned with the Democratic Party. In the 2020 presidential campaign, Joe Biden received about 68% of the Jewish vote, while Donald Trump secured 28%. The overall national vote four years ago broke 51% to 49% in favor of President Biden… A more recent Siena College-NY Times study noted the following: Trump’s support among Jews in New York is…slipping, decreasing from 53 percent in a February poll by Siena College to 38 percent in a survey conducted between April 15 and 17, 2024.”

Evidently, voting patterns in America are more complex than what the mainstream media would have us believe. The “uncommitted” voters have been highlighted only because of the war in Gaza, but they may not amount to much. The youth vote may not impact Biden much because they despise Trump more, and Biden becomes a fait accompli — if they turn up, that is.

What we are left with, therefore, are the same experienced voters (45 and above) as the 2016 and 2020 elections. Biden knows this. It is for this reason perhaps that he is not making any strong statements about law enforcement excesses in campuses.

We are exactly six months away from one of the most consequential American elections of this century. But neither candidate seems to be currently super active on the campaign trail — President Biden is bogged down by serious administrative issues and former President Trump has to be in court every day in New York.

But if all the surrounding noise is muted, it would seem the election is actually business as usual.

Sachin Kalbag, Senior Fellow at The Takshashila Institution, is a former Washington correspondent and editor of Indian newspapers. Email: sachin@takshashila.org.in. Twitter: @SachinKalbag

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