By Victor Shi
Every presidential election is determined by the hungriest constituency. Without the historic turnout of Black people in 2008 and 2012, President Obama wouldn’t have been able to get elected and re-elected president. Without the enthusiasm of women in 2016, Hillary Clinton would likely not have clinched the nomination. In 2024, the hungriest constituency that will propel President Biden back to the White House will be Generation Z. Now that it’s official that President Biden is running for re-election, his greatest challenge ahead of November 2024 will be mobilizing enough young people to vote for him.
Make no mistake: turning out younger voters isn’t going to be an easy task. It never is. It should not be surprising that youth turnout historically has lagged behind that of older generations. But, given that young voters will account for the largest voting bloc of any age demographic in 2024 and that we have broken voting rates since 2018, it is more important than ever before to turn out as many young people as possible.
Any success in turning out young voters for President Biden, however, will require both capitalizing on the sustained attack on young people by Republicans and selling the Biden Administration’s record in creative ways. While doing so requires constant investment in young people, there’s never been a more opportune moment than now. And even against the backdrop of President Biden’s age, the necessary turnout is possible if his campaign does it right.
We know what works.
First, the Biden campaign must realize that to reach Generation Z, they must spend time understanding us. Unlike what Kellyanne Conway and Scott Walker may suggest on Fox, flooding social media platforms like TikTok or Instagram with information will not work. Young voters are smarter than that. To think that young people are more susceptible to online influence than older generations is a grave political miscalculation. Assertions with no data or no facts to back them up are not a winning strategy to reach Gen Z.
Instead, reaching my generation requires listening to the values and issues we care about carefully. We are more diverse and educated than previous generations, making it much harder to cast sweeping generalizations about us. To the Biden Administration’s credit, it has spent considerably more time than the GOP in coming to understand our concerns — through initiatives like inviting young people to the White House for roundtables and summits.
Sustaining this effort on the campaign trail will serve President Biden’s campaign well, especially considering more young people say they vote not because of the political party or a specific candidate but rather because they see the values they care about reflected in the person for whom they are voting. Of course, empathizing with our concerns is only the beginning. President Biden’s campaign should take what young people tell them and translate it into real, tangible policies.
But it’s not only the messaging but the messengers who matter. Young people are only going to listen to and appreciate what the Biden Administration has done and will do for us if it comes from our peers. That is why Biden’s campaign should identify and recruit as many Gen Z-ers as possible to amplify his record. Put simply, get young people to talk to each other. Studies show that the most trusted messenger for young people is not their parent, teacher, or elected official. It’s their peer. And the more President Biden and his campaign can find ways to get young people to talk to each other about the accomplishments over the past two years and what’s to come, the more young people he will reach and mobilize ahead of 2024.
Democrats must also make the choice before young voters as clear as can be. That will require calling GOP actions what they are and being unafraid to use terms like “fascism” or “authoritarian.” Democrats must convey that what Republicans are trying to do to young people is not only not normal, but it’s dangerous and an assault on every issue we care about.
Take, for instance, the Republican response on the top three issues young people say they care most about abortion, climate change, and gun violence. On all three issues, not only have the majority of Republicans either voted against bills that would move our nation a step in the right direction — the Inflation Reduction Act, which invested a historic amount in climate change, or the Safer Communities Act, a landmark gun reform bill. Republicans are also seeking to strip away abortion rights and introduce anti-LGBTQ+ bills across the country. And it is Republicans limiting what students can learn and read about in the classroom.
At the end of the day, there is no better way to describe what Republicans are trying to do to young people than a war on our rights and lives. Whether it’s on social media, the airwaves, or at rallies, President Biden should channel his inner Dark Brandon and call Republicans out for who they truly are. As the saying goes, this is the time to play hardball.
President Biden is right; we are in a battle for the soul of our nation. But the battle to save and protect democracy can’t be won without young voters getting in the fight and voting for President Biden. The good news is that more young people are hungry and ready to make a difference. We’ll work as partners with President Biden and Democrats if they do their part to invest energy in us every day between now and Election Day in 2024.