Old Man Biden and Young Would-Be Voters

The President has tepid support in the 18-29 demographic.

President Joe Biden boards Marine One at the Wall Street Landing Zone in Manhattan, Wednesday, September 20, 2023 en route to JFK International Airport in Queens, New York. The Statue of Liberty can be seen in the background.
Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

In his latest Substack column, Nate Silver asks, “What’s the deal with Biden’s poor polling with young voters?” He begins by dismissing the idea that the polls are simply wrong.

It’s much better if instead of looking at individual polls, you compile polls together to get a decent sample size and evaluate whether a demographic trend is consistently reproduced across different surveys. One such trend in recent polls has been the relatively poor performance of President Biden with young voters. Here, from Nate Cohn, is a summary of Biden’s numbers against Trump among young voters — which may be defined as age 18 to 29, 18 to 34 or something else depending on the poll — in as many recent national polls as he could find:

There’s a lot of variation from poll to poll — although that’s what you’d expect given the margins of error involved, plus other factors like whether third-party candidates are included. But overall these are very tepid numbers for a Democrat. Biden leads Trump 46-42 among young voters on average, with large numbers of young voters saying they’re undecided, will sit out the election, or — if given the option by the poll — will vote third-party. (In fact, when RFK Jr. is explicitly included as an option, he actually leads the youth vote in some surveys.)

This has touched off a lot of debate online about whether such numbers are feasible, with crosstab-divers citing partisan nonresponse bias or offering other explanations for why they don’t buy the numbers. Again, my experience is that denying what you see in polls usually doesn’t end well and that these critiques tend to be about 80 percent motivated reasoning and 20 percent actual science.

Instead, my attitude is more like this: I’d keep in mind that the polls are a snapshot of current public opinion. I’d take the over on Biden eventually winning young voters by more than 4 points a year from now. But there are lots of reasons to think these numbers describe the current state of the electorate fairly well and this is a real potential problem for him.

I fully agree with this: Young voters are meh on Biden but will almost certainly support him in the end over Trump. Whether they’ll actually turn out to vote, however, is a different matter entirely; they historically haven’t but the trend is upward.

Regardless, Silver offers several hypotheses for Biden’s current low standings and then digs into he polling to test them.

  1. Biden is extremely old for a presidential candidate and this is a big problem for young voters.

In the recent New York Times/Siena College poll, a generic unnamed Democrat led Trump by 21 points voters aged 18-29, right in line with how under-30s voted in 2012 and 2016. Biden himself led by just 3 points, however:

The gap between “generic Democrat” and Biden tracks extremely closely with age. This cuts against the notion that Biden’s poor performance with young voters in polls reflects some sort of technical issue with how young voters are being polled. Surveys are finding plenty of young voters who are willing to vote for a Democrat — but far fewer who are excited to vote for Biden. That may simply be a consequence of Biden just having turned 81 years old and having plenty of moments where he’s shown his age.

Indeed, we see the same things across cohorts: Generic beats Trump or Biden across the board. And, like it or not, people see Biden as way older and compromised than Trump, evidence be damned. It’s just that young voters are a bit more emphatic, presumably a function of not yet having the optimism beaten out of them by life: they still expect to be wowed by the candidates for President whereas us old timers have adjusted to that happening only generationally.

I’ll omit the graphics on the next one, which I find less interesting.

  1. Young voters sharply break with the rest of Americans on Israel-Palestine and some other issues.

There are very sharp, age-related divides in voters’ sympathies on the Middle East. In a recent Quinnipiac poll, Americans voters overall sympathize with Israelis over Palestinians by a margin of 54-24. But among voters under 35, the numbers are nearly the reverse of that, with young voters more sympathetic to Palestinians by a 52-29 margin

Note how sharp the divide is. Voters aged 35-49 are quite pro-Israel while voters aged 18-34 are quite pro-Palestine. The numbers remind me somewhat of these ones on LGBTQ identity.

Again, we see a sharply nonlinear trend. The number of LGBTQ identifiers in Generation X is still fairly low. But then it zooms up very rapidly in Millennials and in Generation Z — mostly in the form of how comfortable people are identifying as bisexual.

You can also find stark age-related divides on issues such as free speech. And you saw them in the 2016 Democratic primary. Bernie Sanders won voters aged under 30 by an 84-14 (!) margin in the 2016 Iowa caucus, even though Hillary Clinton actually (just barely) won the state.

I’m increasingly coming around to the idea that there’s been some sort of step change that cuts roughly midway through the Millennial generation — so say, people born in 1990 or later — that affects people’s social and political attitudes across a wide range of issues. Perhaps it’s related to social media usage and media consumption habits; that’s beyond the scope of today’s newsletter. But whatever the cause, it’s becoming more common to see very stark age-related divides in data on social and political attitudes and that makes me more inclined to take them at face value when I come across them.

This doesn’t much impress me as an explanation for the youth enthusiasm gap. With the exception of the Palestinian issue, Biden is clearly more aligned with young voters than Trump. It’s true that Trump has condemned Israel’s actions and Biden’s policies, but he’s more anti-Netanyahu than pro-Palestine. Regardless, if this cohort of voters casts their ballot primarily on foreign policy grounds, they’ll be the first.

  1. The Obama generation has aged out.

I’ve already said this, but none of the voters who were in the age 18-29 bracket the last time Obama was on the ballot in 2012 will be in that group next year. Today’s young voters may not have particularly clear memories of Obama or the somewhat kitschy, nostalgic treatment of Biden during his years as Vice President.

Instead, a voter in their late 20s will now have faced three consecutive elections with candidates they weren’t very enthusiastic about. Sanders, not Hillary Clinton or Biden, was the choice of young liberals in 2016 in 2020. This year, Democrats haven’t really had a contested nomination at all. “Hold your nose and vote for this old person that you didn’t want to be nominated” is a tough message to sell three times in a row. To be clear, I think the sales pitch will work with some young voters, particularly around issues like abortion and gay and trans rights. But Democrats aren’t making it easy on themselves by consistently nominating presidential candidates with little youth appeal.

So, this is certainly more plausible. In my political memory, Democrats were indeed prone to nominate relatively youthful men for the Presidency. Jimmy Carter was 52, Walter Mondale was 56, Bill Clinton was 46, Al Gore was 52 and Barack Obama was 47 their first go-around as nominee. By contrast, Hillary Clinton was 69 and Joe Biden was 77. That’s bound to lessen the enthusiasm of young voters. (Then again, they seem to like Bernie Sanders, who’s two months older than Biden.) Still, the Republican nominee in those contests, Donald Trump, was 70 and 74.

  1. Young voters have less experience with inflation.

I have a longer feature on inflation coming soon, so I’ll keep this quick. But young voters grew up in an environment of very little inflation and near-zero interest rates. Now, they’ve woken up to prices that are still nearly 20 percent higher than they were three years ago:

If you’re an older American, you’ll have had some experience with this — certainly if you’re old enough to remember the late 1970s and early 1980s. And if you’re in your 40s like me, you’ll at least recall the early 1990s and the moderately high inflation leading up to the financial crisis. But if you’re 25 you won’t have any of that experience. You’ll be used to prices that barely changed at all, then suddenly they shot up a lot. In the forthcoming article, I’ll make the case that its price changes relative to expectations that matter for consumer sentiment, and those expectations will be different for younger consumers.

I don’t find that particularly persuasive, in that I don’t think humans are wired that way. I’m in my late 50s and have pretty clear memories of the stagflation days of the 1970s, Whip Inflation Now buttons, the Misery Index, and all the rest. (Although, granted, not as one responsible for a household.) But I don’t react to prices going up by thinking, “Well, it’s not as bad as it was when Jerry Ford was President!” Indeed, if anything, I think it likely works in the other direction: my mental set point for what various things should cost was set decades ago, so the prices actually seem higher to me than they do to a 20-year-old who just started buying his own groceries.

Silver concludes,

Last question: should Biden do more to cater — or if you prefer, to pander — to young voters? Actually, I think that’s not so clear. A more pro-Palestine stance probably would help Biden with young voters, for instance — but it’s unpopular with the rest of the electorate and might hurt Biden overall. More generally, voters who want to vote Democrat but don’t like Biden are coming from all over the place — some think Biden is too conservative, but others think he’s too progressive. Democrats are also increasingly having issues in polls with young Black, Hispanic and Asian men who didn’t attend college, and they won’t necessarily have the same concerns as campus progressives.

Overall, young voters have been saddled with a lot in recent years: a financial crisis, a pandemic that severely disrupted their education, and a warming planet that it will be their job to clean up. Boomers have loaded a lot of figurative and literal debt onto younger generations, in other words. And yet, the candidates most likely to be nominated for president this year are 81 and 77 years old. Trump and the current, right-wing-dominated Republican Party don’t have a lot of natural appeal to young voters, so in that sense they’re still Democrats’ voters to lose. But we should take the polling at face value when it suggests Democrats are tempting fate.

FILED UNDER: Public Opinion Polls, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Jen says:

    I saw a caption yesterday that I think should be on repeat:

    “I’d rather have a president with 81 candles than 91 felony charges.”

    That’s it. That’s the choice.

  2. Charley in Cleveland says:

    Isn’t Silver is the same guy who told us to believe the polls that Hillary was a lock to win in 2016? Pollsters, like the mainstream media, want a close race AND want to sell their product. Landslides don’t generate clicks. Do young voters think Trump will protect voting rights? forgive student loan debt? protect LGBTQ rights? Do they think he will forgive Netenyahu for recognizing Biden as president? Do young Latinos think THEY won’t be rounded up by Stephen Miller’s brown shirt squads? Reality may puncture the “Biden is too old” trope in November of 24

  3. James Joyner says:

    @Charley in Cleveland:

    Isn’t Silver is the same guy who told us to believe the polls that Hillary was a lock to win in 2016?

    No, he was always warning that a 79% of Clinton winning was also a 21% chance of Trump winning.

    See, for example, the Nov 3, 2016 Vox article “Nate Silver’s model gives Trump an unusually high chance of winning. Could he be right?

    Silver’s final pre-election forecast, published the morning of Nov 8, was also filled with warnings that Trump could win and gave all manner of reasons why that was the case.

  4. Rick DeMent says:

    I actually had a conversation with a friend who is way more to the left than I am and she has no love for Biden. “He’s too old… ” she told me. Alright, then I asked, who do you want to run … I swear with a straight face she said, “Berni Sanders”.

    I might be too baked at times to count, but isn’t Sanders actually older than Biden?

  5. Mikey says:

    @Rick DeMent: Yes, Sanders is a year older than Biden.

  6. Jen says:

    @Rick DeMent: Yes, as James notes in the post, Sanders is two months older than Biden.

    ETA, although that’s what the post says, Mikey is correct, he’s actually a year and two months older than Biden. DOB Sanders: 9/8/1941, DOB Biden: 11/20/1942.

  7. Rick DeMent says:

    @Jen: @Mikey:

    Yeah, I missed that 🙂

  8. gVOR10 says:

    A 77-year-old racist, misogynist bigot who has been found liable for rape, who incited a deadly, violent insurrection aimed at overturning a democratic election, who has committed mass fraud for personal enrichment, who is facing 91 separate counts of felony criminal charges against him, and who has overtly discussed his authoritarian strategies for governing if he returns to power

    against “an 80-year-old with mainstream Democratic Party views who sometimes misspeaks or trips.”

    “One of those two candidates,” Klaas notes, “faces relentless newspaper columns and TV pundit ‘takes’ arguing that he should drop out of the race. (Spoiler alert: it’s somehow *not* the racist authoritarian sexual abuse fraudster facing 91 felony charges).”

    This is political scientist Brian Klass quoted by Thomas Edsall at NYT via Paul Campos at LGM. Yesterday I commented that Dems, and a hypothetical MSM interested in fair and balanced coverage, would focus not on Trump’s fascism but on his, and other GOPs, craziness. I’m one of the first to criticize FTFNYT for being FTFNYT, but this Edsall piece is really good. As Campos says, not a hint of “on the other hand”. He hopes it’s a sign of a changing attitude. Edsall concludes,

    Klaas, who opened this column, concludes that a crucial factor in Trump’s political survival is the failure of the media in this country to recognize that the single most important story in the presidential election, a story that dominates over all others, is the enormous threat Trump poses:

    The man who, as president, incited a violent attack on the U.S. Capitol in order to overturn an election is again openly fomenting political violence while explicitly endorsing authoritarian strategies should he return to power. That is the story of the 2024 election. Everything else is just window dressing.

    Everybody is worried about Biden’s age because the supposedly liberal MSM bring it up every five minutes. That Trump is nuts is a story that’s been out there since 2016. Maybe the MSM will start mentioning it more often. I recommend the full Edsall piece, but at least read the short version at LGM.

    Also, too, Silver has for some time been doing a good imitation of Glenn Greenwald.

  9. Kathy says:

    I’m more concerned that Jill Stein is running. She may again help take away votes from the Democratic candidate standing in the the way of Adolph Benito.

  10. JKB says:

    Boomers have loaded a lot of figurative and literal debt onto younger generations, in other words.

    We’ve only had three Boomers in the White House. Bill Clinton, Obama and Trump. The debt load is from the pre-Boomers like Biden and Pelosi. Biden being in on the loading down for more than 50 years.

    And now, Biden wants to load more debt on by forgiving the student loans of the most fortunate and advanced schooled and piling it on the non-college workers.

    I think this will be an interesting year as more and more of the edumedicated stop and think.

    As for abortion, the presidency doesn’t really matter now. The young who are passionate will need to pay attention to state elections and marginally the House if they are to be anything more than “passionate but ineffective”

  11. JKB says:

    @Jen: “I’d rather have a president with 81 candles than 91 felony charges.”

    One is an objective measure and indicator, while the other is hostile actions take by the opposition party to use the prosecutorial system to influence the election.

    But we live in a time of pithy memes manipulating the college edumedicated unthinkers so it might work

  12. DK says:


    One is an objective measure and indicator, while the other is hostile actions take by the opposition party to use the prosecutorial system to influence the election.

    The hostile action was Trump using sore loser election lies to manipulate his dumb, unpatriotic, gullible supporters into attacking Congress on Jan 6 — after his own party’s judges and election officials rejected those lies, as his own election audits later would.

    It was hostile to America’s national security that Trump then stole nuclear secrets and sensitive defense documents, after he failed at his treasonous conspiracy to overturn an election he lost by millions of votes.

    77 year-old morbidly obese pervert Trump was rightly indicted for these and other crimes, and were he not a rich white man he would already have been convicted and jailed for them.

  13. DK says:


    We’ve only had three Boomers in the White House. Bill Clinton, Obama and Trump. The debt load is from the pre-Boomers like Biden and Pelosi.

    We know by now that Trump and his supporters can’t count and lie constantly, the reality is that Boomer Trump is the King of Debt:

    The national debt on Jan. 19, 2017, the day before Donald Trump was inaugurated president, was $19,944,429,217,107.

    On Jan. 19, 2021, the day before Joe Biden was inaugurated, the debt was: $27,752,835,868,445 — about $7.8 trillion higher.

    …halfway through Biden’s term, the debt had risen by another roughly $4.7 trillion, to $32,542,410,783,067.

    As to student debt relief, it would have cost about $50 billion a year, which is several times less than the trillions in corporate welfare, PPP free money slush money for the wealthy, and tax cuts for billionaires that Trump and Republicans happily shoveled to the rich with no concern about debt, deficits, or offloading costs onto workers.

    Conservatives (and others who love socialism-for-the-rich but hate young Americans and the poor) are too out of touch to know that having a college degree does not automatically make one financially “fortunate.” Which is yet another reason Republicans keep losing elections.

  14. Jim Brown 32 says:

    @JKB: Get ready for more hostility. We are going to leave Orange all over the wall and ceilings with this embarrassing fake tough guy, fake billionaire, fake Mussolini.

    I learned a long time ago that to tip toe around his and your type is to prolong the inevitable. So yes, the intention is to use the law to destroy Trump and anyone else with him. It doesn’t have to be this way but you seem to want a confrontation…well you got it.

    Is that clear enough for you?

  15. Jen says:


    One is an objective measure and indicator, while the other is hostile actions take by the opposition party to use the prosecutorial system to influence the election.

    Trump is old, fat, and can’t construct a sentence. People age differently, and while the number is an objective measure, it still doesn’t tell the whole story. And you HAVE to be joking about the felony counts being somehow political. There are literally decades’ worth of criminal behavior Trump has been involved in. Time to pay the piper.

    But we live in a time of pithy memes manipulating the college edumedicated unthinkers so it might work

    Right, college-educated people being manipulated by pithy memes is the problem. Not the conservative infotainment complex flat-out lying to people.

    Are you truly this far gone? You realize that you are rejecting reality in favor of a preferred narrative, right?

  16. Skookum says:

    When I read the title of Dr. Joyner’s article, I said to myself, “All they want is a JFK, someone to inspire them, to help them clean up the mess the Boomers created.”

    And there it was, in Silver’s last paragraph.

  17. Andy says:

    I’d be interested in seeing the numbers for swing states.

    But fundamentally, the youth vote has always been (and likely always will be) extremely fickle. In an election with two very unpopular candidates, it’s hard to predict what young people will actually do.

  18. KM says:

    @Rick DeMent:
    The narrative that Biden Is An Old ties in with America’s ever-growing denial about age. Yes, Sanders is older then Biden. He, Trump, Biden, hell a huge portion of Congress and the SC are old as balls. Hell, Jill Stien’s in her 70’s too!!!!

    But remember in America age is just a number, a state of mind. We are the Forever Youth culture, perpetually pushing back on what old is to keep everyone young. Remember the generation that said “Don’t trust anyone over 30” also coined “X is the new 30”. People think of themselves and their heroes as young and those they dislike as old. The backlash when someone is confronted with the truth of their age can be harsh. One reason people hated the new Star Wars trilogy is they showed Luke, Han and Leia as Olds, Luke in particular getting crap as being depicted as a “sad, bitter old man”. It was 30+ years later of a very rough life, did they still think he’d be a fresh-faced teen??

    Sanders is the forever the middle-aged revolutionary in leftist minds like Trump’s still in his heyday for the MAGAs. Truth is both are way, way past their prime and should have been out of power ages ago.

  19. Gustopher says:


    We’ve only had three Boomers in the White House. Bill Clinton, Obama and Trump.

    You missed George W. Bush.

  20. Michael Reynolds says:


    One reason people hated the new Star Wars trilogy is they showed Luke, Han and Leia as Olds

    Interesting. I had not thought of that. Hmm. Absorbing insight.

    Personally, I have to fight the perverse urge to lean into age. But not just my age, I sometimes want to go full Montgomery Burns and answer phone calls, ‘Ahoy hoy,’ or order up a sasperilla. The yutes don’t know the difference between 69 and 89, it’s all just ‘old.’ And fair enough, I’m from the never trust anyone over 30 generation. Though, TBH, I was never young and stupid, I was always old. And stupid.

  21. KM says:

    @Michael Reynolds:
    I just turned 40 so am officially an Old (at least according the Gen Z staff) and already things are breaking down and cost me a fortune in medical bills. I find myself watching old favorites and thinking of myself as their age, only to go get a snack and see myself in the hall mirror. A teenager I ain’t anymore but because that’s the age I was when I saw the media, that’s how it’s preserved in the mind. Nostalgia always carries the hint of youth so when media does a reboot or shows What Happened Later, the audience tends to hate it. How many sequel shows / spinoffs have casts that show in-universe aging and do well?

  22. Michael Reynolds says:

    I’m annoyed with myself for not having figured that out. After all, this is a subject I’ve invested some energy in, it’s not the latest iteration of quantum theory.

  23. KM says:

    @Michael Reynolds:
    Meh, the benefits of getting to write canon vs having to deal with forums full of angry fanbois lamenting it. You think like a writer and create worlds with the appropriate structure and framework, they live to pick it apart and find fault because of their personal issues. Your vision doesn’t have to account for everything immediately whereas fanwank and haters argue themselves into knots about why they’re mad. I’ve run enough counseling sessions to hear the same undertones again and again. Frankly I’d rather have your job 🙂

  24. Gustopher says:


    One reason people hated the new Star Wars trilogy is they showed Luke, Han and Leia as Olds, Luke in particular getting crap as being depicted as a “sad, bitter old man”. It was 30+ years later of a very rough life, did they still think he’d be a fresh-faced teen??

    I think it’s the “sad and bitter” people weren’t expecting for Luke.

    Everyone expected that he would be running a Jedi Academy, training a batch of orphans to not cut each others arms off (dismemberment is an adult activity, like drinking beer), and that the semi-utopian Republic would be facing a threat.

    That’s not what we got. I think good stories could be told from either premise, but that “The Force Awakens” wasn’t a good story, and boxed everything else into “the New Republic was a failure, it was all for naught”.

    “The Last Jedi” was about as good a movie as you could make from that basis, ending the entire Skywalker saga with Broom Boy being inspired by the stories. TFA says that evil rises again. TLJ continues that, but also says that heroes always rise again.

    And then, somehow, Star Wars returned with another movie.