Young Voters on Joe Biden vs Donald Trump

Change Research, led by a team of Gen Z and Millennial pollsters, conducted a poll of 1,033 voters between the ages of 18 to 34, from August 25-September 1, 2023. The modeled margin of error for this survey is +/- 3.4%.

While Joe Biden may have lower favorability and job performance ratings among young voters, this survey reveals that he significantly outperforms Donald Trump in a head-to-head matchup. This analysis examines Joe Biden’s standing with young voters in comparison to Trump, the potential challenge a third-party candidate like Cornel West might present, and the best strategies for framing the race to persuade the target audience.

Biden Approval

In every age group, more voters disapprove of Joe Biden’s performance as President. However, among young voters, the gap between those who “somewhat disapprove” and those who “strongly disapprove” is narrower than in older age groups. The profiles of voters who “somewhat disapprove” or are “not sure” closely resemble those who approve of Biden’s performance, rather than those who strongly disapprove.”

Throughout this analysis, we will highlight the opinions of voters who say they softly disapprove of Biden’s performance, as these voters are a key group Democrats must win over in order to win in 2024.

While the majority of young voters have unfavorable views of Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, and Donald Trump, almost twice as many rate Trump as 'very unfavorable' compared to either the current president or vice-president. Few voters are familiar with Green Party candidate Cornel West, but among those who are, the distribution of opinions is nearly equal between favorable, neutral, and unfavorable views. Despite the predominant negativity towards current political figures, young voters still view Barack Obama favorably.

Over 80% of the 'Soft Biden Disapprove' voters—those who somewhat disapprove of Biden's performance or are uncertain—view Donald Trump very unfavorably. This contrasts with the 11% for Biden and 20% for Harris. These voters are not likely to be swayed by Trump, but considerable effort is required to persuade them to vote for a second Biden term.

Almost two-thirds (64%) of the 'Soft Biden Disapprove' voters identify as either progressive or liberal. This percentage is slightly lower than among those who approve of Biden's performance. However, only 12% identify as libertarian, conservative, or MAGA.

Young Voters on 2024

As is the case in many surveys, Biden's strongest metric is his performance in a direct head-to-head matchup with Donald Trump, where he leads 58% to 30%. He maintains a similar lead against DeSantis. Furthermore, US House Democratic candidates surpass their Republican counterparts by a margin of 30 points. Among the 'Soft Biden Disapprove' voters, Biden garners 64-65% against both Trump and DeSantis, while US House Democrats lead with 55% compared to 7%.

Biden's challenge lies in the fact that when the race introduces other credible candidates, his support dwindles drastically, while Trump's remains relatively stable. Introducing Cornel West as the Green Party candidate (noting this poll was conducted before West announced his departure from the Green Party to pursue an independent run) causes Biden's vote share to drop by 19 points, whereas Trump's decreases by only three points. West secures 18% of the vote, and the undecided portion grows by four points. While it's unlikely that West will garner such a substantial share in the actual race, this data highlights the volatility of the contest when extended beyond just the current and former president.

Joe Biden is the oldest sitting US President, a fact that is often reported on. We wanted to ask the youngest cohort of voters what they thought of Biden’s age and what they thought were the best counterarguments to this knock against his presidency. We posed the fact of Biden’s age and presented various counterarguments for young voters to consider. Voters were then asked to select statements they agreed with. Among 'Soft Biden Disapprove' voters, the best performing sentiment was: “Biden is old, but so are most of our politicians.” Although this isn't an argument anyone should use in a campaign, targeting Trump will prove most effective, as nearly half of these voters resonate with the sentiments, “Biden is old, but so is Donald,” and “Biden is old, but we must do everything possible to prevent re-electing Donald Trump.” 

More positive messages that performed well include: “Biden is old, but he supports abortion rights,” and “Biden is old, but he's making efforts towards student loan relief.” Promoting Biden's presidency and his economic agenda appears less effective. While 60% of those who approve of Biden's performance believe that “Biden is old, but he’s been a decent President,” a mere 7% of 'Soft Biden Disapprove' voters agree. Only a quarter (25%) of Biden's supporters, and a scant 1% of 'Soft Biden Disapprove' voters, align with the statement, “Biden is old, but his economic plan benefits me.”

In summary, Biden is strongest with young voters when he is explicitly contrasted with Donald Trump. The voters we need to win over are not feeling the benefits of his economic plan or his presidency. However, these voters will not go to Donald Trump. The stakes in the election need to be made as clear as possible to match the intensity the other side will bring.