There is good news for former Vice President Joe Biden when it comes to younger voters. He’s no longer underperforming where Hillary Clinton ended up in the final 2016 polls.
The big question coming out of the Democratic National Convention is whether they’ll actually start to like him. Going in, young voters still didn’t like Biden, which leaves him susceptible to some of these voters potentially not turning out to vote in the fall.
Biden, at this point, holds a more than 20-point lead with young voters in live interview polls taken in August. Biden’s up by 25 points among 18-29 year-old voters in an average of the most recent CNN/SSRS, Fox News and NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist College polls. It’s a 24-point lead if we look at 18-34 year-olds in the CNN/SSRS, Monmouth University and NBC News/Wall Street Journal polls.
Adding in more polls to build up the sample size (such as a Fox News, Kaiser Family Foundation or Quinnipiac University poll from mid-July), only confirms that Biden’s position with younger voters has clearly improved from the beginning of the spring.
When I looked at the data back in April, Biden had only a 14-point edge over Trump with voters under the age of 35.
Clinton, for comparison, led in the final 2016 polls by 19 points among registered voters under the age of 35 (and under the age 30).
It shouldn’t be too surprising that Biden’s doing better with younger voters now. He was coming out of a primary fight with Sen. Bernie Sanders, who was the preferred candidate of the youngest bloc in the electorate. Now that time has passed, some of these voters may have put aside some of their animus towards Biden.
Young voters moving toward Biden is part of the reason why Biden’s national advantage has widened from about 6 points in the early spring to about 9 points today.
But even as younger voters prefer Biden to Trump, it’s not clear at all that they actually like Biden. Consider polls from ABC News/Washington Post, CNN, Fox News and Marist.
Biden’s net favorability (favorable - unfavorable) rating averages out to be -4 percentage points among the 18-29 year-old subset. That’s actually about 5 points worse than his net favorability with all registered voters in those polls. If we expand out to 18-34 year-olds looking at data from CNN, Gallup and Monmouth, Biden’s net favorability remains negative.
Indeed, the difference between vote choice and net favorability among young voters is striking. Biden’s running about 30 points better against Trump in the horserace than his net favorability alone would suggest. Again, if we add more data from July, the point stands.
Compare what’s going on with young voters to 65 years old and older. They give Biden a net favorability rating of +10 points in an average of ABC News/Washington Post, CNN, Fox News and Monmouth polls. The same polls have Biden ahead of Trump by 9 points with this group. That is, there’s no statistical difference.
Senior citizens like Biden, and they’re voting for him.
What’s going on with younger voters is pretty simple: They’re voting for Biden because they really don’t like Trump. His net favorability with those under the age of 30 averaged -40 points in these same polls, or about 35 points worse than Biden’s net favorability rating.
It’s difficult to imagine Trump gaining too much among younger voters going forward. They know who he is after about 3.5 years of his presidency.
The potential pitfall for Biden is that voters who like neither candidate are much less likely to be enthusiastic about voting. In CNN’s last poll, only about 10% of those who did not have a favorable opinion of either candidate said they were enthusiastic about casting a ballot in the fall elections. Among those who had a favorable view of at least one of the candidates, about 60% were enthusiastic about voting in the fall.
Of course, enthusiasm about voting is not the same as actually voting. You can vote without being enthusiastic about the idea, though the two are linked.
An ABC News/Washington Post poll from late May (the latest I could attain the raw data file for) drives home the point. Voters who had a favorable view of either of the candidates were 20 points more likely to say they were certain to vote than those who liked neither.
Not surprisingly, younger voters are also less enthusiastic to vote and say they are less certain to vote than older voters in November, which follows historical precedent. The question is whether they’ll make up a smaller percentage of the electorate than they usually do given they don’t really like either candidate on the ballot.
We just don’t know. Still, this data does show the potential problem of Biden relying on young voters disliking Trump as the mechanism for getting them to vote for Biden in November.