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Updated May 29, 2024, 6:38am EDT
politics

‘A dying empire led by bad people’: Poll finds young voters despairing over US politics

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The Scoop

Young voters overwhelmingly believe that almost all politicians are corrupt and that the country will end up worse off than when they were born, according to new polling from Democratic firm Blueprint obtained exclusively by Semafor.

The sour mood points to potential trouble for Joe Biden, who is struggling with Gen Z and younger Millennials in polls compared with 2020, and needs to convince them he can be relied on to improve their lives.

As part of the online poll of 943 18-30-year-old registered voters, Blueprint asked participants to respond to a series of questions about the American political system: 49% agreed to some extent that elections in the country don’t represent people like them; 51% agreed to some extent that the political system in the US “doesn’t work for people like me;” and 64% backed the statement that “America is in decline.” A whopping 65% agreed either strongly or somewhat that “nearly all politicians are corrupt, and make money from their political power” — only 7% disagreed.

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“I think these statements blow me away, the scale of these numbers with young voters,” Evan Roth Smith, Blueprint’s lead pollster, told Semafor. “Young voters do not look at our politics and see any good guys. They see a dying empire led by bad people.”

While 45% of those polled said their own lives would be either a lot or a little bit better than their parents’, the same wasn’t true for how they felt America as a whole is doing: 54% — a number that included a solid mix of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents — believed the country is going downhill.

The data also found the COVID-19 pandemic has left a lasting, bad taste in the mouths of young voters: 51% of those polled said they were happier before the COVID-19 pandemic, 77% said that the event changed the country for the worse, and 45% said they feel less connected to friends and acquaintances compared with five years ago.

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“Step one is more fully admitting that people are hurting, concerning young voters and all voters, particularly around the economy [and] inflation,” Smith said. “And that we’re doing something about it. That it’s not all roses, and communicating that really, really strongly: That we don’t think everything is great.”

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Know More

Blueprint also implemented a “word test” for Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a candidate both the Trump and Biden campaigns are keeping a close eye on as a potential landing spot for disaffected voters. The most selected words for him were “old” at 30%, “free thinker” at 26%, independent at 26%, and moderate at 17%. Words like “spoiler,” “liberal,” and “populist” were among the least selected phrases.

Smith told Semafor that the language associated with him is mostly “abstracted,” and that he believes “one of the parties in this election will do a better job of” shoring up the margins of their coalition who are currently considering third-party choices.

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“Right now I think there are pathways to RFK from the left, and I think there are pathways to RFK from the right, and what we see in this data is that, for young voters, he’s just independent — he’s just a free thinker,” Smith said, while noting he did have vulnerabilities on age.

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Shelby’s view

Broadly speaking, Blueprint’s polling reveals young voters in America are not doing okay. But the pessimism about the country, its leaders, and more is also a concerning trend for Biden — whether he’s directly responsible for why voters feel the way they do or not, he’s currently in office during a time when many seem to be.

There are signs the Biden administration has begun to recognize this reality: Their once-often used term “Bidenomics” largely fell off the map after voters expressed frustration over the phrase, arguing it did not reflect the reality that they were feeling on the ground.

But there’s still a way to go, particularly with young voters who are wary of politicians and have lived through three presidential election cycles in a row featuring major party nominees known for their support among older cohorts.

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Room for Disagreement

In his newsletter Off Message, Brian Beutler argues that Democrats would be making a mistake by conceding the premise that conditions are bad under Biden, rather than bragging about low unemployment and falling crime while promising to help those still left behind. “Maybe turning ‘meet voters where they are’ into an iron rule of politics is a recipe for behaving sheepishly in all circumstances, and carrying the stink of a loser everywhere,” he writes.

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Notable

One reason younger Americans’ pessimism matters, Vox’s Eric Levitz writes: There’s some evidence Trump tends to do better with voters who have low trust in institutions. That alone could help explain some of his recent gains with young and nonwhite voters, Levitz argues.

Donald Trump has been working to get young voters by focusing on messaging about things like the economy — and by recruiting rappers and going to various sporting events, Semafor reported last year.

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