Why No One’s Winning Young Voters (Ep. 5) | Crooked Media
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July 07, 2024
The Wilderness
Why No One’s Winning Young Voters (Ep. 5)

In This Episode

Jon is joined by youth polling experts John Della Volpe and Kristen Soltis Anderson to talk about apathy among young voters this election cycle. Why are they so disengaged? Are some truly defecting to Trump? And what message, if any, can get them out for the polls? Jon, John, and Kristen dive into the focus group tape to unpack Gen Z’s opinions of our octogenarian presidential candidates, their top economic issues, and the war in Gaza. And Anderson Clayton, the 26-year-old Chair of the North Carolina Democratic Party, joins to talk about Gen Z’s faith in their own ability to improve democracy.

 

 

TRANSCRIPT

 

[AD BREAK]

 

Jon Favreau: Hey everyone, just wanted to let you know that we recorded this episode a few days before the debate that has changed everything. Um. But we still want to bring you the episode that we recorded, because the concerns that you’re going to hear from these voters are concerns that they expressed before the debate, and they are concerns that they will express after the debate, I’m sure. So with that, here’s our episode. [music break]

 

[clip of Anderson Clayton] That’s sort of where young people sit generationally, in history in general is like we are always the group of people that are going to be fighting and begging and demanding change. Like we’re never going to be okay with what the status quo is. So even if Biden has been the most progressive president and we do talk about that, I think young people are always going to be the group that pushes us to be better, to have um, a more equitable and fairer society, because we’ve always been that way on every civil justice fight that’s existed, in my opinion. So I think we just need to do a better job at talking to them. 

 

Jon Favreau: Anderson Clayton is a 26 year old voter in a swing state who wants to see a generational shift in our politics. That makes her just like most Gen-Z voters. What makes her different is that she decided to run for state party chair in North Carolina, and is now the youngest person in America to ever hold that title. We called her up to talk about what she’s hearing from young voters in North Carolina as she tries to flip the state this November, a tough challenge in a place that’s only competitive because of an electorate that keeps getting younger and more diverse. For a few decades now, young voters have been a big reason that Democrats win elections. In 2020, over half of 18 to 29 year olds voted. Low compared to other age groups, but still the highest youth turnout since the voting age was lowered to 18. For the first time ever there were more Gen-Z and millennial voters combined than there were baby boomers and the Silent Generation. And these voters supported Biden by around 20 points more than Trump. A huge gap that we also saw in the 2018 and 2022 midterms. But there are warning signs everywhere that 2024 may not look the same. You see it in polls, you hear it in focus groups, and you’ve probably heard it anecdotally. A lot of younger voters seem more disillusioned and angry than usual about politics, the two parties, and their presidential candidates, Democrats have always had challenges getting younger people to actually vote. But this time, there’s a concern that even if they do vote, they might not support Biden or other Democrats by the same margins they have in the past. The big question, of course, is why? And what would actually motivate young voters to get out and help defeat Trump and MAGA politicians with the same turnout and margins that we saw in 2018, 2020, and 2022? We asked Anderson what she thinks. 

 

[clip of Anderson Clayton] I think that parties in previous years have been the ways that people were motivated to turn out and vote, but um I think in terms of young people, issues are going to motivate them a lot more this year and in future generations and in future cycles of political organizing that we’re going to see. And young people really care about specific policy issues. Finding a job, finding a house, being able to live, like deciding where they want to. Do they want to start a family, do they not? Like that should be their decision to make at the end of the day. Like Gaza and I, because I, I think about it, and I’m like, that is the one issue I hear so much talked about when we put young people in that category. We have heard the president call for a cease fire. We’ve heard the vice president call for a cease fire. Like I am not negating that that is a huge issue for a lot of young people, especially a lot of politically active young people that are aware of that issue, have been aware of it and know what it’s going on. And I’ve also come into a political awakening on it. But I also think that, like young voters, especially in the South right now, have seen our rights be fundamentally stripped from us. And I think that people here in this region of the country care a lot about what is happening at the state level and at the local level, because it is causing us to not be able to see a future staying in the state that we grew up in, that we care about, that we want to live in for the next 50 years. And so a lot of those issues look like um housing affordability. It looks like wages in North Carolina. Abortion rights is something that I hear from college campuses every day when I’m on them. And also the fact, I mean, UNC Chapel Hill had two school shooter drills last year alone, and they had a faculty member that unfortunately was killed with an active shooter on one of their campuses, and that came from our state legislature repealing the pistol permit vote that came down in 2023. And we have seen this legislature come for young people. And I’m like, God. If I can’t get y’all motivated by the fact that these people are literally stripping away your fundamental freedom, I don’t know what more I can do in this election cycle. 

 

Jon Favreau: This will sound repetitive, but contrary to the impression you may get from the news and social media, it turns out that the majority of young people care most about the same issues nearly every other group of voters cares about. Their cost of living, their basic rights and freedoms, and the safety of their communities. The difference is, they are more doubtful than most that the people who represent them will actually be able to deliver for them, especially when those politician’s life experiences seem so different and distant from their own. 

 

[clip of Anderson Clayton] I tell people all the time, I’m like young people got to organize young folks. Like, did you listen to your parents necessarily? Probably not. Like we listened to the people and the community that is around us. And like, what is our our voting bloc feeling about this election cycle? Do they feel the doom and gloom that’s provided to us every day with a phone screen that tells you you can do nothing about politics whatsoever? You can’t change it. Or do they listen to the person that’s out there in their, you know, group chat that’s saying, hey, I’m going out to knock doors today for Joe Biden and for Kamala Harris or for Josh Stein and for Allison Riggs, who’s running for Supreme Court in North Carolina. I need you to come out with me. Let’s go out and knock doors for a candidate that actually wants to see a future that envisions young people in it, in this community. 

 

Jon Favreau: Anderson’s last point is an important one, even though younger voters have the same concerns as other generations. They have the longest future ahead of them, and they’re not going to participate in a political system that doesn’t focus on that future, especially when it seems so uncertain right now. So how do we convince young voters that their participation is the only way to fix what’s broken about politics? How do we get more Anderson Claytons, or even just enough young people who are willing to stave off the threat of Trumpism again? A few weeks ago, I caught up with two people who’ve been talking to young voters and asking these questions for years, John Della Volpe and Kristen Soltis Anderson. John is an adviser to the Biden campaign, the director of polling at the Harvard Kennedy School of Politics, and the author of Fight: How Gen Z Is Channeling Their Fear and Passion to Save America. Kristen is a pollster who leads focus groups for The New York Times and is the author of The Selfie Vote: Where Millennials Are Leading America and How Republicans Can Keep Up. You’ll hear our conversation next, followed by more from Anderson on what’s happening on the ground in North Carolina this year. I’m Jon Favreau. Welcome to The Wilderness. [music break] All right, so uh, we are talking this season about different groups of undecided voters who aren’t yet sold on Joe Biden or Donald Trump or even voting at all. Um. And I wanted to talk to the two of you because one of the biggest mysteries of this election is what’s going on with young voters. Um. A group both of you have spent years polling, studying, talking to, writing entire books about, uh so I guess the first thing I’d love to hear your thoughts on, is this. Historically, the debate about younger voters has been whether or not they’ll show up. Still a big question in this race, but now there’s a debate about who they’ll vote for. We’ve seen some polls like yours, John, like the most recent CBS poll that show Biden maintaining roughly the same advantage with younger voters that he had in 2020. Other polls that show Trump gaining quite a bit of support among uh these voters. John, what do you think’s going on here? 

 

John Della Volpe: I think it it really is dependent upon the definition of the poll. Definition of the sample. Um. The poll that you’re referring to, which is the 25th year at Harvard, shows among likely voters that the race is relatively normal. In other words, the Democrat, you know, five or six months out and when we conducted the survey is in the mid 50s. Republican sometime in the somewhere in the mid 30s. So among that relatively narrow set of likely voters. That’s kind of what I see. And I think that’s what was reflected in the CBS, YouGov poll over over the weekend. When we broaden that up. When we look at registered voters, when we look at the entire 18 to 29 year old cohort, or when we add in third party and independent candidates, the data becomes, um more opaque. And I think that’s where we see a significant shift relative to what we would expect to be at this point. But right now, where I sit, it looks relatively normal when we look at likely voters. 

 

Jon Favreau: Kristen, what do you think? 

 

Kristen Soltis Anderson: I think that I look at polls like John’s, and I put a lot of stock in them because they are specifically looking just at young voters. Um. I do polls all the time of the broader electorate, and out of a thousand likely voters, the slice that’s going to be in that 18 to 29 group is relatively small. Sometimes we’re doing sampling using online panels that are matched back to the voter file in our data. That’s one way that we try to ensure good data quality, but it doesn’t fix everything. And so if you asked me, what do I trust more, a subsample of a survey or John’s survey, I would say John’s survey 100 times out of 100. And so I think when it comes to the data, where you’re looking just at young voters, not at a small subsample that bounces around a lot, you do pretty consistently see a story of young voters being not that in love with Joe Biden, maybe being open to the idea of voting for Donald Trump. But they are not conservatives. They are not Republicans. And that’s an important distinction to make. 

 

Jon Favreau: Okay, I want to take a step back and talk about what you guys have been hearing from young voters. Um. John, you’ve been conducting focus groups and town halls, all over the country, some of which you’ve generously offered to share with us today. Um. Let’s start with some general views from voters in Columbus, Phoenix and Atlanta about politics, government and uh what it’s like to be young in America today. 

 

[clip of unknown speaker] Who agrees with that like when you turn 25, everything kind of sucks? Is that what you said, someone?

 

[clip of unknown young voter] [?] I’m 23. And I think it’s [?]–

 

[clip of unknown speaker] Raise your hand. Raise your hand if [indistinct] raise your hand if you connect in some way to what Chelsea said. Once you turned 25 or so, everything kind of sucks. Raise your hand. Keep them up there for a second. [indistinct] All right. 

 

[clip of unknown young voter 2] It was as soon as I got out of high school. 

 

[clip of unknown speaker] Almost everybody. 

 

[clip of unknown young voter 3] Yeah. Kind of building off that. A lot of the issues that we’re facing in this country are systemic, and they are primarily based in capitalism. And it would be great if we could address gun violence and reproductive rights and the cost of living. But when I see these things happening, [?] it’s like we need to do a complete overhaul of the systems so and I know that the government’s not willing to do that because they’re profiting. And we’re going to [?]. 

 

[clip of unknown young voter 4] Um. At the end of the day, I don’t think the government has come in and saved anybody. I mean we’re all so quiet. They’re still over here trying to sit here and say, oh, we need to give money to Ukraine, give money to everybody else. Yeah. But they have people on the daily who are in the streets dying, barely able to survive and it’s still nothing. 

 

[clip of unknown young voter 5] The majority of politics are like extreme left battling the extreme right. And it’s like majority of people fall somewhere in between and don’t have to be arguing about every single policy that they have absolutely no say in. 

 

Jon Favreau: So I picked those because I thought they were fairly representative of the sentiment I heard from most of these voters. Frustrated, pessimistic, pretty cynical about politics and government. Uh. Kristen, does that track with what you’ve seen and heard? 

 

Kristen Soltis Anderson: It does. And I got to say, it makes me so sad that so many of them said, oh, yes, upon turning 25, everything sucks. Just like side note, actually, when you’re 25, everything’s amazing. When you’re 40, you’re going to think that everything was amazing when you were 25. So–

 

Jon Favreau: Exactly what I thought. 

 

Kristen Soltis Anderson: Just a just a side note there, um don’t be so down in your mid to late 20’s. But I do think that for young people today, there’s this disconnect that I find bizarre and disheartening, which is that on the one hand, objectively, there are lots of things that actually are really great about being a part of humanity at this moment in time. It is way better to be a human today than it was 100 years ago, than it was 200 years ago, um even than it was 30 years ago. Uh. And I so it just, I feel like we are living in a moment where there is a lot of reason why young people should not feel as down on everything as they are. And yet we live in I think a media ecosystem where everything is fine. Nothing to see here, like doesn’t get anybody to click on anything. But panic and doom and you’re being screwed, everything’s horrible. It’s not your fault the world is coming after you, like really sells this day and age. And I worry that we have a generation that has really fallen captive to this notion that they are victims of something that they can’t control and therefore um just go blame everybody else. Everything’s terrible. They’re not wrong to think that politics is frequently awful. They’re not wrong to think that the two parties are not doing a good job of representing an awful lot of voters in America. I don’t mean to say this to be Pollyanna-ish, but I it just, it it makes me so frustrated because I think back to the millennial experience. Right. And maybe we were optimistic in a way that was unwarranted. May and so this is maybe the pendulum swinging back the other way. We were optimistic. And then reality came and hit us in the face. And for Gen Z, they’re going to start off really cynical about everything, and there’s no way for them to possibly be disappointed because they already think things are as bad as they could possibly be. Um it so it it does line up with a lot of the data that I’m seeing. The one thing that I didn’t hear in those clips, but I’m curious, John, if you have heard any of this as well, is that for a lot of young people they think everything is terrible and they don’t trust government or today’s current politicians to fix it, but they actually have quite a lot of confidence in their own generation to fix it. So it’s not like they think everything is going to be terrible forever. They just think it’s going to be terrible until their cohort is in charge. 

 

John Della Volpe: And they do believe in the power of government to solve those challenges. They distrust government, they distrust the current government. But they do think that government and a robust government should have a responsibility to address some of these underlying systemic issues that you heard in those clips. 

 

Jon Favreau: John, I was just going to ask you, like, this does seem when I hear these voters, it seems like a particular challenge for the party that wants people to believe that government can be a force for good and for progress, doesn’t it? 

 

John Della Volpe: Well, that is I think is one of the questions, one of the main questions I have about this entire electorate, which is, as Kristen knows, that young people generally vote when they can see the difference that voting makes. Right? For themselves, for the communities, for the nation, and where they’re not able to connect those dots, there are less likely to be open to messages from either candidate, and certainly less likely to vote and to participate. And the big disconnect I think we see kind of in this cycle is, I would argue that no administration has been more youth forward in terms of uh their agenda as the Biden-Harris administration. I think when I ask young people four years ago, why are you going to vote? Or now, why did you vote? I hear climate, I hear gun violence a lot. I hear economic issues, specifically student loan forgiveness, all of those strings, all of these three things have been delivered in an historic fashion. Yet they’re not able to see that. They’re not able to feel that. And therefore, I think skepticism grows. It’s always been a challenge with younger people, because when you’re older, I can measure. We all have money in the 401K in our 401K or in the stock market, you know, older, older voters, um know that their prescription drug coverage will be cost. Those are tangible differences that government make. For younger people it’s hard to measure the day to day impact of climate, you know, or gun violence prevention or those sorts of things. And I think that’s adds to the cynicism and one of the more challenges we have to connect with them. 

 

[AD BREAK]

 

Jon Favreau: Kristen, I am prone to think and have argued that a lot of the doomerism is a result of the media information environment that this generation is growing up in. And, you know, we’re millennials like we went through 9/11 and the Great Recession, right? So we had our share of problems too. You know and then I hear from Gen Z, people in Gen Z who say, well, no, no, we’re dealing it’s not just the media that we’re watching. We’re dealing with these terrible problems. Don’t just blame the media or TikTok or anything else. And I do wonder if, if, if it’s really the media environment, would that mean that that young people who aren’t as tuned into politics, who don’t consume as much media, would they be more hopeful? Would they be less less cynical and pessimistic? Have you guys seen that at all in in terms of like the the split between very engaged young voters and not so engaged young voters? 

 

Kristen Soltis Anderson: Well, what I think is interesting about this generation too is that even I’m going to rewind the clock for me back to when I was that age, because I am an old millennial, I am not this is like a real misconception that I find a lot of people have. They think millennials are young. No, no, we’re–

 

Jon Favreau: I know. 

 

Kristen Soltis Anderson: We’re like ancient at this point. Um. But that being interested in current events is now it is much more the norm. Um. It is much like being tuned in. I don’t that does not mean watching hours of cable news each week. That’s not what I mean. But um, I it is no longer just the province of, like, the kids on the debate team. Um. That it is the thing that, like the most popular influencers um are talking about when something big happens, like the Dobbs decision, like the, the influence of politics and discourse around issues is not just siloed off into politics brain anymore. Um. And I think that is a explains a lot of things. I think it explains a lot of why Gen Zers are driving their boomer bosses crazy by wanting their companies to take stands on political issues, that that for an older generation, there was a little bit more of a siloing of your political views are over here, here’s what I do for my job. Here’s my family, here’s my church. And like, those walls are all coming down for a younger generation that the same person they are getting beauty tips from is thirty seconds later telling them your reproductive rights are under assault. Um. That those those worlds have blended in such a way that I actually don’t necessarily differentiate like young people who are less tuned in because it’s like less tuned into what? Somebody who is not paying attention to political podcasts is probably following sports news or beauty influencers. And you can get political news that way in a way that you probably weren’t 20 or 30 years ago. 

 

Jon Favreau: That’s fascinating. I hadn’t thought about that. All right. So just about every poll shows that the economy is the top issue for young voters, as it is for all voters. This is especially true for concerns about affordability, cost of living. Um. I will say, like, the sense of frustration and and hopelessness feels more acute um with young voters than with, some of the, a lot of the other voters I’ve heard. Uh. And it came up in every single focus group and Town Hall that John sent us. Columbus, Phoenix, Irvine, Atlanta, and Detroit. Let’s listen. 

 

[clip of young voter in town hall] Like, for example, I’m paying two thou– 2000 for a two bedroom apartment to rent. And they that that would cover their mortgage on like a mansion when they were younger. 

 

[clip of young voter in town hall 2] I spent four years at school, and I’ve been applying for jobs for the last four months. 

 

[clip of John Della Volpe] Yeah. 

 

[clip of young voter in town hall 2] It’s been hard finding places, and a lot of places don’t want to email you back. 

 

[clip of John Della Volpe] Yeah. Yeah. 

 

[clip of young voter in town hall 2] And it doesn’t give me much hope. After I just spent four years in college trying to work hard for this degree. 

 

[clip of John Della Volpe] Yeah. 

 

[clip of young voter in town hall 2] And can’t even get an email back saying sorry, we recommend somebody else. 

 

[clip of young voter in town hall 3] Seems often people, older people don’t understand how expensive everything has gotten for us younger. I worked really hard to move into, like, a more middle class lifestyle, and then immediately was pushed into a lower class lifestyle from the cost of living. 

 

[clip of young voter in town hall 4] A lot of younger people pick up a lot of jobs and lose a lot of jobs very quickly, and a lot of older people will feel like that’s unprofessional, that you may get a job, quit, get another job, quit. But the rate we go in and the pay we making is you don’t have an option to stay where you’re not getting what you deserve or what you should get. So they don’t understand the severity of staying in a place where you’re not making enough money to survive, let alone they feel like you should overwork yourself and become a slave to your job so you can make bare minimum. 

 

[clip of young voter in town hall 5] I’m not looking to buy a house right now, but it is something I would like to do one day and it feels like that goal just gets further and further away. Like by the time that you get to where you want to be, that benchmark has moved up again. 

 

Jon Favreau: Now you look at economic statistics and see that the unemployment rate is very low for young people. Inflation has come down. Um. The data doesn’t seem to suggest that young voters are doing worse than other generations. So I’m curious, like, have you guys heard similar economic angst from millennials or Gen X when they were this age or is something different happening with Gen Z? John? 

 

John Della Volpe: This is different. This is different. You know, Jon and Kristen, I spend in probably 20 summers, you know, doing similar sorts of town halls and and focus groups, you know, from the advent of, of the Harvard Youth Poll and um, like, like I found the, the, the vibe in the rooms in 2017 different when Trump was in office. In terms of the fear and the anxiety and the concern, I’m I’m hearing the same thing, but in the economic um perspective that I had never heard of before. And um, and in addition to that, though, the other thing I’d be interested in Kristen’s perspective, the other thing which I never heard or seen before, is there’s barely a focus group or a town hall, the town halls I’m talking about 24, 25, 30 people that I can assemble where a member or two had not already been homeless, feel like they’re on the verge of homeless, you know, or something similar. So it’s like the qualitative experience of the anxiety, which I think some context could be helpful right from all of us, one. But there is real, you know, kind of a connection to being without a home at such a young age that I think that we need to listen to and take seriously. 

 

Jon Favreau: Yeah. I will I will say that when I have done these focus groups too, like the one issue that relates to cost of living that comes up more than anything else is housing. And I do think you can say that, like economic statistics are what they are. But housing, especially both rent and mortgage and with interest rates where they are like that is qual– I mean, it’s that is much different than it has been. But Kristen, what do you think? What have what have you been hearing? 

 

Kristen Soltis Anderson: Yeah, I would say that what I am hearing the the Gen Z angst compared to, say, the millennial angst, they are not twins, but they are cousins. Um. That for the millennial angst, it was acute concern about the ability to get a job that really was backed up by the economic data at the time. Um. For millennials, that was the we were the generation where a lot of the hey, you know what? If you want to set yourself up well in life, what you need to do is set aside 10% into your retirement fund and you need to buy a house, you need to get married, and you need to go to college and get a degree. And we were the generation that started to go, are you sure about all that? Because the housing market just collapsed. And I do have a college degree and I can’t really get a good job. And so our generation was more the one where all of these things that we were told we were supposed to do, we started to go, I’m not so sure about that. Gen Z is just kind of outright rejecting them from the beginning and saying, like, I see through this facade. I’m not interested in that, in participating in this farce. And that’s where their anxiety is coming out. But so take something like housing. For the millennial generation the problem would have been that the economy is so bad, and you can’t get a job that pays enough to save up enough for the deposit. Where for Gen Z, now we’re in a world where it’s harder than ever to, say, qualify for a mortgage because they’ve now changed what it takes to do that. The interest rates are going to be higher. So they may have a very different job environment, wage environment. Um. But at the same time, if they’re having to spend it all on groceries, then it’s hard to save it up anyways to be able to pay for that down payment. And so it’s they are not identical, but they are similar. I do think that most young people come into adulthood and find that being an adult is very hard, is very challenging, and you’re suddenly faced with all sorts of things that maybe the school system or life has not prepared you for adequately when you get there. And you’re right to be pretty ticked off about that, I, I’m not trying to necessarily walk back my earlier dismissal of of young people’s angst, but but to say that if you are 25 and you are frustrated that you cannot afford a home, you’re not wrong to be frustrated that you cannot afford a home. If you are 25 and you have a ton of student loan debt and a degree that you think is not paying off, you are not wrong to be upset about that. But I do also think that it’s important to keep in mind what is what is the the median experience. Right? Like so college for student loan debt. John, I’d be curious for your take on this. I hear that as a concern amongst political elites a lot. Oh my goodness, this is going to be something huge that drives young voters. But a majority of young people don’t necessarily have a four year degree or that’s not part of their life plan anyways. And so I also do wonder how much some of this anxiety is rooted in the attention that gets paid to the voices of those who want to attend expensive colleges or get an apartment in an expensive urban area, versus kind of the median Gen Z experience, which may not look like that. 

 

Jon Favreau: John, what do you think? 

 

John Della Volpe: Yeah, I think that. I think a couple of things, one of which is the most anxiety I hear is actually from, you know, the two clips that stand out to me. One is from Detroit and one was from Columbus, where people, after they graduated college or community college were expecting quote that, you know, working class or middle class lifestyle. And they’re already saying they’re falling behind and may never be able to kind of to catch up. And, and I think a lot of it is just like the cost of, of of of of even rental income. Right. So I think a lot of it isn’t I think it is that kind of lived experience. And the one word that kind of connects all this for me is stability. Younger people are looking for some place where they can find some stability. There is no stability in the political system today. There is no stability when we look at where the world is right now, and there’s very little stability in their own home or in their neighborhood, and that is, I think, those three combinations, those three things in combination is what’s really driving a lot of anxiety and angst. And I can’t and and I want to hear what Kristen’s perspective is on this. But I would throw out like, hey, you know, what do you think, do you think the stock market when was the last time the stock market had a record? You know, yesterday. You know, I can’t convince someone that their life is getting better, even though the stock market’s getting better or even the unemployment rate. It’s how they feeling it and perceiving it at this moment in this very, you know young part of their of their overall hopefully adult experience. 

 

Kristen Soltis Anderson: So I want to pick up on what you said about stability, because in general, I think that this axis of chaos versus stability is going to be totally decisive in this election. I think that voters overall are craving stability in what they feel has been a very chaotic last eight to ten years of American life. At the same time, I struggle with how to square that with some of the young people whose voices we just heard in those clips that you played, where they’re saying, I want to tear down the system like, that’s it, and to like, bring it back to the 2024 election. That’s exactly the kind of rhetoric you would hear from someone who was a low engagement voter, who decided to turn out in 2016 for Donald Trump. And who, I think in 2024, is susceptible to turning out for Donald Trump because they still want that wrecking ball style approach. And maybe they’re RFK Jr. curious or what have you. But I I think what’s so interesting about young voters is that on the one hand, I agree that they would like some ability to, you know, feel like they have financial security to feel like they have housing security and those sorts of things. But aren’t they also the generation the most likely to say, I want to blow things up? 

 

Jon Favreau: Yeah. Well, this is it’s I think it’s fascinating that we are we’re talking about the sort of the two candidates and the two parties, and we’re talking about it on the axis of chaos versus stability, which I tend to agree with, or, you know, tear it all down or or keep the system we have. And it does seem like, you know, the traditional maybe pre-Trump Republican message, the government should, you know, get out of the way would not necessarily be attractive to these voters. But it also seems like they’re skeptical that Democrats will be able to actually deliver on their promises to help make life more affordable. So sort of where does that leave both parties in terms of like, do you guys think there are economic messages that would resonate with young people that aren’t just, I’m going to tear it down, I’m not going to tear it down. I’m going to keep things the way they are. I’m going to change things like, do they have any sense of sort of like an economic message that’s appealing to them? John?

 

John Della Volpe: Yeah. The first time I, first time I conducted a survey many years ago when I was asking questions about capitalism, socialism and other things where I found a majority essentially rejected capitalism. And I learned very quickly through follow up focus groups that it wasn’t like a rejection of the system itself. It was essentially a rejection of how it was being practiced. Right. Um. And then, in fact, when I share the definition in subsequent surveys, support for capitalism went up. The the the what I have continued to hear is that when I challenge young people to tell me what’s better, they would describe to me a combination of a, of a Teddy Roosevelt and FDR, kind of a a New Deal and a square deal, something that provided some basic infrastructure, social infrastructure one, but also something that was big enough to like to, to, to break up monopolies and those sorts of things. Give the, give the regular person kind of an opportunity. So I think it’s a more modern version of capitalism is what younger people are asking for. But I always love spending time with Kristen because I learn so many things. So when I think about the chaos versus stability, it’s really kind of how many different axis are there, right? Are we talking economics? Because that tends to favor Trump. Are we talking kind of political and democratic? That would tend to favor Biden, I would argue. Right. So it’s just not chaos versus stability, it is really kind of what other axis are there. Um. That we’re also looking at the second axis. So fascinating. 

 

Jon Favreau: Kristen, what do you think? Because I, it’s interesting. The Republican Party’s in a spot right now where policy wise, it seems still at least Republicans in Congress are still wedded to like a tax cut deregulation agenda. And then there’s the Trump style of politics, which seems to be like like, you know, economic populism as, as a style. [laugh]More than in actual policies. But like, how do you see that? 

 

Kristen Soltis Anderson: I think that a big part of the reason why you have seen more young people at least express an openness to someone like Donald Trump compared to, say, Mitt Romney 12 years ago, is in part that economic populist thread, because I think for a lot of young people, their core concern with the financial, with our economic system is a sense of fairness. Um. Which is not to say that they think that fairness means everybody gives 100% to the state, and the state allocates it accordingly, like an actual uh centrally planned economy is not necessarily what they’re thinking. So I agree with John on that. A lot of young people who say they want to tear down the capitalist system when you ask them to describe their ideal system, it is not, it is not the Soviet Union. It is like Scandinavia. Um. At the same time, I think that for Republicans, you know, there was a moment when kind of entrepreneurship and those sorts of things, I thought there was a way for that to be a message to young people, in part because of, you know, you heard some of those respondents in the focus groups talking about their side jobs, um or, you know, they’re the ones that have kind of struck out on their own. I had thought for a while that that entrepreneurship message would have resonance, but I have since come to think it has some limitations, in part for the same thing that I said about the college degrees and the housing. Like, to what extent is entrepreneurship actually a dream of a lot of young people versus a dream of a small number of very vocal young people who maybe take up disproportionate space in our minds? And so for Republicans right now, I think the idea that the government is bad at allocating resources, the idea that the government is bad at making decisions about things, um is still resonant. I think you’re seeing some interesting pushback among certain segments of young people on topics like crypto, for instance, where they tend to like it more and they feel like government is going to screw it up if government gets more involved. That’s just one little piece of where I do still think there is a I don’t want the government controlling everything strain among this generation that that’s not the same as, gee, I want to lower corporate tax rates so that we can be competitive for the rest of the world. Like that’s not those are not the same message. 

 

Jon Favreau: So, we mentioned this briefly, but one economic issue um that keeps coming up is student debt, but also just the financial value of a college education more broadly. And here’s what some of these voters said about that. 

 

[clip of young voter in town hall 6] College was my biggest regret honestly. 

 

[clip of John Della Volpe] Oh, really? 

 

[clip of young voter in town hall 6] Yeah it’s I’m in debt for it. And I was even working when I was at college. 

 

[clip of young voter in town hall 7] You know, you graduated with a college degree, you can afford a house, a car, two kids, you know, but now people with, like, a bachelor. You know, they can no longer do that. Or, you know, and then we have to reach, like, the next step like a master’s degree, now everyone get a master’s degree, [laughter] so like the next one would be like so I feel like just like, not compensate anymore. 

 

[clip of John Della Volpe] Who has debt one form or another that they’re living with? Everybody?

 

[clip of young voter in town hall 8] Student debt. 

 

[clip of John Della Volpe] Student debt? 

 

[clip of young voter in town hall 8] Yeah student loans.

 

[clip of unknown young voter] Yeah. 

 

[clip of John Della Volpe] How many else have, how many people here have student debt?

 

Jon Favreau: So uh, everyone said they or I think most people in that group said they had student debt. Um. You know, as Kristen mentioned, John, like the polling among all voters on student debt relief is mixed. Um. Though young voters tend to be more supportive. Uh. Is anyone, by the way, giving uh President Biden credit for any of the student debt that he has forgiven on his own in any of your focus groups? Or is that just no one knows about that? 

 

John Della Volpe: Very few. So my most of those focus groups, by the way, are younger people, and we were really wanting to see whether they would vote or not. Okay. So that was like the that was essentially the criteria for the, for uh the demographics um that we selected for. It’s not and very few. We know there were some people who had a family member who relieved some student debt. Having said that, when I talk to people in their 30’s and their 40’s, for example, who will have had some student debt relieved, they represent some of the more emotional experiences I’ve ever had conducting research like this, you know, in in several decades, right, when you can hear um, you know, from, you know, a 45 or a 50 year old African-American woman who, for the first time in her family’s history, can now afford a house because of the debt relief, right? Or doesn’t have to make a choice between, you know, between saving for a child’s education versus the rent, etc.. So um, there are incredible numbers of very moving stories about the importance, important role of this policy. The fact is, we have $150 billion plus relieved. That’s almost 20%, I think, of the Pentagon budget. And very few young people appreciate that. Very few younger people appreciate the fact that Joe Biden promised it in 2020, and despite the fact with the Supreme Court dead, it has been delivered too soon to be, I think, ten million young people. [music break]

 

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Jon Favreau: Well, Kristin, you mentioned this, but one thing I kept hearing in these focus groups is these young people questioning the value of a college education. And so, yes, they’re upset and burdened by student debt, but they’re also just like, why did I do this? Like, I did not get a job that can keep me financially stable, even though I paid all this money for college. And it does seem somewhat seismic to me that like questioning the very value of a college education and that it can get you ahead in life, um is is sort of characteristic of, of people’s opinions these days. And it, I feel like it hasn’t been like that in the past. 

 

Kristen Soltis Anderson: Well and I think it is rooted in the idea that what is the purpose of getting a four year degree, right? And and maybe and how has that question changed over the last 20, 30, 40 years? Why did our parents or grandparents generation think going and getting a bachelor’s degree was important? That I think especially after the Great Recession, there was this idea that the job market is terrible for young people. In order to get ahead. You have got to be extra credentialed in order to set yourself apart. And so you saw this real emphasis, and I think not misguided to say, hey, we should make sure that every student is on track to where if they want to choose to get a college degree, they’ve been prepared by the K-12 system to do so. But the problem is, one, you have a K-12 system that hasn’t really prepared a lot of them to do so. So they get to college, and completing in four years is going to be a challenge, because they’ve been so let down by the system that got them there. Then they get to college and there’s what is the incentive of the college? Is the incentive of the college to get them out in four years and send them on their merry way? Like I and I think we’ve just had this misalignment of incentives that has led to a generation saying, hey, I came and I got this degree thinking it was going to do X, Y, and Z, and it’s not clear to me that it’s yielding that. So what was this all for? And, you know, if you talk to folks that work at colleges and universities, they’ll tell you, well, the value of the degree is not just the dollars and cents that you are getting in your paycheck, it’s that you find yourself. It’s that you grow intellectually. It is in all of those things. And that may all be true, but gosh, it costs an awful lot of money. 

 

Jon Favreau: Yeah. 

 

Kristen Soltis Anderson: To become an adult and find yourself and plenty of people become an adult and find themselves and don’t wind up in severe debt doing so. And so I think this is a real crisis moment for the higher education world, where because the price of their product has gone up so much, but the return on that investment feels so opaque to people, um that I think this is a crisis moment for the higher education world. 

 

Jon Favreau: Yeah. No, it certainly seems like that. And the degree doesn’t matter as much if you then can’t afford rent or mortgage after you leave college and get a job. Right. Um. So even though economic concerns, top of the list for young people, uh this is a group of voters who who feel very strongly about, uh what they see as an attack on their rights and freedoms. Um. Here’s some young people from Atlanta talking about that. 

 

[clip of John Della Volpe] What kinds of rights do you think are at risk right now in this country? 

 

[clip of Atlanta young voter 1] Freedom of speech. 

 

[clip of John Della Volpe] Freedom of speech? 

 

[clip of Atlanta young voter 1] Yeah, on top–

 

[clip of John Della Volpe] Do you guys agree with that? 

 

[clip of Atlanta young voter 2] I would vehemently agree with that. [?] Autonomy. Um.

 

[clip of John Della Volpe] Okay. 

 

[clip of Atlanta young voter 3] I know we talked about it earlier. [?] Right. But like you said earlier, your generation like had easier access to college. 

 

[clip of John Della Volpe] Yeah. 

 

[clip of Atlanta young voter 3] You know. 

 

[clip of John Della Volpe] Yeah. Right to an education if you work for it. 

 

[clip of Atlanta young voter 3] Right. 

 

[clip of John Della Volpe] Right. Is that a right that you feel like is like under attack? [?]

 

[clip of Atlanta young voter 3] Sure. Sure. Yeah. 

 

[clip of Atlanta young voter 4] I mean you could definitely say reproductive rights because a girl can’t get an abortion now. 

 

[clip of unknown speaker] Right. 

 

[clip of Atlanta young voter 4] In some states, in Georgia. 

 

[clip of unknown speaker] Under attack in a lot of states. Mm hmm. 

 

[clip of Atlanta young voter 5] Yeah I think that’s crazy. And I’m a Republican and I think that it’s crazy. 

 

[clip of Atlanta young voter 6] I have um, endometriosis and a lot of health issues concerning my reproductive system and some of the medications that I have to be on and different things like that, and the possibility of having a risky pregnancy and not being able to get the health care I needed, um is a big right that I feel like I’ve lost. 

 

[clip of Atlanta young voter 7] Yeah, I would say speech really comes to mind. Freedom of speech. Yeah, I am Muslim. So it’s, you know, seeing kind of all these takes on the Israel Palestine war is I mean, it hits home in some level. So I mean, just kind of seeing how, you know, the police can arrest so many people, you know, just for protesting, seeing how corporations and people have to take take action for these–

 

Jon Favreau: So, John, polls show that young voters are overwhelmingly pro-choice, um and lists abortion as one of their top issues. The open question is to what extent the issue will determine their vote, and whether they believe Biden will be able to protect abortion access, or even that Trump will further restrict abortion access. Uh. What are you hearing? 

 

John Della Volpe: So I think a couple of things on this, one of which is, I think there’s a large number of voters, younger voters who don’t not necessarily understand or can’t really see the difference in their lives based upon who the president has been four years, even on these issues. Number one. Right. So that’s a very, very important thing to kind of, I think, appreciate that often the folks like ourselves who who spend a lot of time thinking, talking about these issues don’t always um hear. The issue of rights. I wasn’t looking for rights. Right. I’m asking people, you know, what keeps people up at night, right? What are they concerned about? And I think, and this is my sense, is that’s how the Biden campaign, you know, kind of rolled out, um it’s announcement is around there’s a series of rights. And I think the definition of what is a basic right to Gen-Z is different than the way in which my generation, Gen X thought of it. Right? The right to breathe clean air and clean and drink clean water, the right to a K through 12 education without being concerned about a shooter coming in. That’s a right, the right to access health care. Um. So I think this generation obviously reproductive rights, LGBTQ rights, but also the right to to feel comfortable sharing your views, you know, in a public or a private spot. So I think this idea of, of rights as something that is resonant, that can connect a lot of the the four or five issues that we see in the top of these uh polls quite a bit. And the degree to which um, I think the Biden campaign can do that, I think that will be helpful for his success to kind of motivate some people to talk about the stability versus the chaos. Um. That that Kristen talked about earlier. 

 

Jon Favreau: Kristen, Republicans are clearly worried about the political consequences of Dobbs. Um. I know like Kellyanne Conway and some others have advised Trump to stick to a message where he talks about letting the states decide. Um. And then also, you know, attacking Democrats for not favoring any restrictions. Do you think that can work with young voters? And and how much do you see this as a motivating issue for young voters? 

 

Kristen Soltis Anderson: So what fascinates me about the polling around this is the way that it differs so greatly from the way it looked ten years ago, especially for young people. When I was writing my book on millennials and their political views, I actually dedicated a couple of pages to the fact that when I was looking at the way millennials differed from Gen Xers and Boomers on issues on things like LGBT rights, there were huge generational divides. But actually, on the issue of abortion as recently as a decade ago, there really wasn’t a huge difference. This idea that there were big generation or even gender divides was a little bit overblown. It is not overblown today. Um. There are huge differences um on these issues. And for young women in particular, it is a much bigger deal. Um. And part of that is because of the connection. And I think some pro-life folks would have said, oh, this is unfair. But now we’ve seen in enough states, courts or legislatures taking action that have led to the entanglement of an issue like abortion with things like fertility care, with things like birth control. This was a real panic in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision. Oh my goodness, is this going to become a political hot button? And it kind of subsided like it flared up, and then it sort of went out of the discourse. It is back in the discourse in a big way. Um. And so I think it’s in a way that it was not a political threat to Republicans ten years ago. It is a political threat now. And that’s because even if it’s not someone’s top issue, even if when you ask them that question and you say you got to pick one, what’s your top issue? They say, I can’t afford my groceries. That comes to the top of the list. Economy, cost of living. But that doesn’t mean that abortion’s not there as something at a sort of gut level of I just can’t bring myself to vote for someone who’s on the other side of that issue. Um. And I also think that the pro-life community was caught very flat footed by the Dobbs decision. You know, I would hear from from pro-life folks over the years that they attributed that lack of a generation divide on the issue to the fact that, you know, you have sonogram technology these days that allows you to see at a very early stage of pregnancy, look, there’s that little flicker, and they sort of thought that that in and of itself would kind of win the public opinion battle for them. Um. And as we see in the wake of the Dobbs decision, that has not been the case. Um. The other issue, though, that I wanted to touch on was when you played that clip. It was fascinating to hear from the young man who said, I’m Muslim and I am concerned about freedom of speech on campus. 

 

Jon Favreau: I was literally just about to ask you that because it came from both sides of the political spectrum, the concern–

 

Kristen Soltis Anderson: Yes. 

 

Jon Favreau: –about the attack on free speech, or what they perceived as an attack on free speech. 

 

Kristen Soltis Anderson: So that has been a very quick kind of shift, because I have followed the the polling around young people’s perceptions of free speech on campus. And really up until the last year, it has been primarily a kind of conservative concern and has gotten kind of dismissed as well this is just conservatives being mad that they’re not allowed to be outrageous on campus. And I don’t really care about their freedom of speech. And now suddenly that it is affecting different groups of students, not just, you know, the campus Turning Point USA chapter. Suddenly you are seeing more and more young people beginning to go, wait a minute. I don’t know if I like this idea that because I hold a certain opinion, I’m going to be quote unquote “canceled” or I know that term has been abused, but it’s fascinating to me the way that this is now a broader concern beyond just the right. 

 

Jon Favreau: John, do you do you hear that come up a lot? Because I, I’ve sort of wondered this too. It becomes and it’s not just like a, you know, conservative activists and liberal activists or people on the right and people on the left. You also hear it from people who are apolitical or who aren’t super politically engaged, just this feeling that everyone’s getting in trouble all the time and and they’re like, afraid to even talk about it and bring it up. And it feels like it reached its peak in like 2017, 2018, 2019. And now it’s sort of maybe subsided a little bit, but I don’t know what. What are you hearing? 

 

John Della Volpe: Yeah, I hear some of that. I hear some of that. I still think it’s more prominent, you know, in the conservative and the Republican groups. But um, I do I do think that that is something that and also that is stifling people from sharing their views and therefore makes them less confident in their choices and thinking through um who they are from a political lens and their values, etc., because they’re afraid to even ask questions. I think that is a very significant factor in terms of, in terms of driving or not driving support for people voting or not, because they we don’t have an environment where people are comfortable asking questions or sharing their opinions because they’ll be judged. Young potential progressives feel that, young potential conservatives feel that as well. And I think that speaks to like, just a lot of work we need to do around civics and, and civic education, um with these young people because it’s just not healthy for anybody. 

 

Jon Favreau: So there’s that that voter mentioned the campus protests. And of course, the issue related to young voters that’s probably gotten the most attention, um in in the media, certainly on social media, is the war in Gaza. Um. It was brought up in John’s focus groups, but I thought it was notable that we also heard a different angle on why young people are upset about U.S. involvement in foreign conflicts. Let’s listen. 

 

[clip of focus group young voter] I want to stop the genocide. I want to stop funding the wars. 

 

[clip of unknown speaker] Yeah. 

 

[clip of focus group young voter] I can’t in good spirit being a Muslim women. 

 

[clip of John Della Volpe] Yeah. 

 

[clip of focus group young voter] Continue to vote Democrat each year like I have on local and on a, you know, presidential level, when I know that my taxpayers money is funding bullets for children. 

 

[clip of John Della Volpe] Can I ask a follow up? Do you feel like Biden is not going to [?] for Trump or someone else? That will um. 

 

[clip of focus group young voter] The lesser evil?

 

[clip of John Della Volpe] That will, that will um, provide more peace for some assistance and some dignity and respect for the Palestinian cause? 

 

[clip of focus group young voter] I think it’s my responsibility to vote for that. Um. Voting for Biden. I mean, if we’re just picking names. I voted for Biden last year because it was the lesser evil. Okay, but now I can’t in good faith vote for Biden for the same reason that he is evil. 

 

[clip of John Della Volpe] Thank you.

 

[clip of focus group young voter] Fixing the potholes. Mental health programs in the United States. That’s a priority for us. It affects our every day. The price of groceries going up. That affects our every day. What’s happening in XYZ country far away, which again, we’re in debt. So why are we bailing out other people’s debt? 

 

Jon Favreau: Uh. So two different issues there. But I want to start with um Gaza. So polls consistently show that most young people have become critical of Israel’s response to October 7th and tend to sympathize with the plight of the Palestinians. On the other hand, Gaza tends to rank much lower on the list of issues that will determine their vote. John, um is that is does that track with what you’re you’re seeing? 

 

John Della Volpe: Yeah, I’ve asked the question dozens of ways in dozens of focus groups and surveys, and that’s essential. Yeah. The only thing I’d add slightly to that, Jon, is that, uh in the Harvard polling, younger people sympathize roughly equally with both the Palestinian civilians and the Israeli civilians. Right. It’s the governments where we see the divide. But generally uh, generally, yes. 

 

Jon Favreau: Yeah. Kristin, I’m interested on in your thoughts on who the opposition to U.S financial support for foreign conflicts like Gaza. We heard, someone mentioned Ukraine in an earlier clip. Um. And of course, this is a position the Republican Party has moved towards under Trump. That that’s quite different than the the GOP you grew up with. Um. Do you think that’s where young people of both parties are headed, or is there an isolationist streak now among young people? 

 

Kristen Soltis Anderson: Absolutely. So there is no bigger issue set that divides younger Republicans from older Republicans then a for then foreign policy. 

 

Jon Favreau: Wow. 

 

Kristen Soltis Anderson: Um. Which which surprises me sometimes. But the data is very stark. And it’s not just Ukraine. It is really that for an older set of Republicans, and I think they share this with older Democrats as well to an extent. There is a view that America can be a force for good in this world. Um. There is a maybe it’s like a cold echoes of the Cold War mentality, but that like when the when America is the world’s leader, the world is better off. And that is not something that young people believe, no matter where they’re at on the political spectrum, right or left. So for those on the left, it is a belief that America is fundamentally flawed in X, Y and Z way. And how dare we tell the rest of the world how to behave when we have all these problems at home? For young folks on the right, it’s not necessarily a view that America is bad, but rather a view that it’s not our problem. We you know, let’s focus in at home. Exactly kind of what you heard. And so, oddly enough, I mean, eight years ago when Republicans nominated Donald Trump, I thought you could not have created someone in a lab who was going to be more off putting to young voters to turn them away from the GOP than Donald Trump. But I would say that foreign policy is actually the one issue area that is a big exception to that, and that this is where even though I think a lot of the sort of Republican foreign policy establishment believes, and I would say, I think rightly, that the world actually is safer and more uh stable when America is strong and is in a leadership role and is working with our allies rather than just looking inward. But for most young people, they really don’t think. They don’t think that America is that great to begin with, and therefore they don’t think that American projection of power around the world does anything but harm. 

 

Jon Favreau: And again, that and the Democratic establishment agrees with a lot of the Republican establishment on that. 

 

Kristen Soltis Anderson: Yeah. 

 

Jon Favreau: And and younger Democratic voters seem to agree a little bit more with um, with younger Republican voters that this is not our business and we should and America’s or at least American presence around the world is a negative. Right? Is bad. John, is that what you’re hearing with some young Democratic voters, too? 

 

John Della Volpe: Yeah, very much so. And and and, you know, the context of that, that that was a middle of a town hall meeting with 25 people uh, with a, with a young Muslim woman from, from Dearborn who’s kind of shared that perspective. Um. I think she is reflective of her generation on the issue of that. It’s, you know, we need to stop funding, you know, other people’s wars, etc. on one hand. Um. I’m not sure that she’s as reflective of her generation. I know she’s not, in terms of the connection directly with Biden and her being less likely to vote Democrat. Because we have not seen that correlation. I think that’s I think that’s worth noting. The other thing is, every time I’ve been in Detroit having these very challenging conversations, the entry point into Israel and Gaza is through foreign aid, right? That is viewed as a value and not necessarily, a place where people may or may not claim someone as anti-Semitic because they carry those values, you know, to other places around the world. 

 

Jon Favreau: Okay. Let’s let’s end by talking about views of the candidates themselves. Uh. Spoiler alert, not a lot of Biden or Trump fans uh among these folks, which does reflect most of the polling. Um. But I thought it’d be interesting to hear how they’re thinking through the choice, uh starting with an Atlanta voter who talked about why he used to like Trump. 

 

[clip of Atlanta voter, former Trump voter 2] I was like 18 years old. Uh uh. You know, going starting off college. And, you know, like he’s funny and he tells it like it is. And, you know, he doesn’t give a fuck, you know if like he offends somebody. And, you know, that was very appealing to my, you know, 18 year old sensibility. I would say Trump. And I think it’s very easy for me, being 22 for it to be skewed because I was a lot younger when Trump was in, in office. So I didn’t really pay attention to it. I wasn’t paying bills the same way I am now. 

 

[clip of John Della Volpe] Yeah. 

 

[clip of Atlanta voter, former Trump voter 2] But and I also think that Biden’s a little bit like there’s lasting effects from Covid that really you can’t really blame on him that we’re starting to feel right now, like inflation being one of them. I don’t think he’s definitely not helping it, but there’s bound to be some level of inflation. But, I mean, when I think about it, I there were no there was no for intention. There was–

 

[clip of young Atlanta voter] But as far as I was saying about like, Biden being bad, I kind of agree with that. But at the same time, I feel like if that’s if your choice is Biden or a racist, you kind of go with Biden. 

 

[clip of young Atlanta voter 2] I think we all need to show up to vote and everything, because there’s so many like boomer generation politicians in ways that are literally insane, like they should not be there any more. They don’t know what’s going on. They’re not in tune with their people. And so we need to come together to make sure that there’s people there that know what’s going on and can speak up for what we need. 

 

Jon Favreau: So uh, we hear a lot of younger voters talking about the lesser of two evils. Um. May sound frustrating or depressing to some people, but uh, I don’t know, John could ultimately be an effective argument if you’re trying to get someone to vote for Biden?

 

John Della Volpe: Well, it’s the old comparative. And there needs to be a comparative, right. You know, Trump tried this. Biden did that. Trump believes, you know, Trump. Trump believes in in restricting abortion on a national basis. Biden um is working to kind of create a national uh law to support women’s reproductive rights, etc.. So there has to be that sort of comparative. I think, Jon and Kristin, one of the more interesting focus groups I’ve done in a long time was with those first clips, those young men in Atlanta. Right. And, and the idea of that first time voter, their first reaction to Trump when they were in their early high school years, they view him as an anti-hero. Um. And that is worth noting, right? They their values aren’t necessarily aligned, but that first experience is a different experience than the young voter four years ago, who you know, who kind of came of age and saw, you know, the policy and the the the the comments where they’re [?] thing. So that’s a really important perspective in terms of how younger people’s experience in this cycle is different than younger people’s experience in the last cycle. And that goes just as well for Biden, by the way. 

 

Jon Favreau: Kristen and there’s been some data that suggests a growing gender divide among young voters with Trump appealing to more young men. Um. Do you think his support among this cohort has grown over the last eight years? What do you think’s going on there? 

 

Kristen Soltis Anderson: So I think to the extent that you had somebody who at 18 took the view of Trump, like the young man in this focus group, right, that they they liked something about his sort of lawless, I don’t care kind of vibe. And that was appealing to them. I’ve, I’ve been a strong believer that the part of the reason why Donald Trump lost in 2020 and there are a million things you could put on this list, but the one of them is in 2016, he retained this aura of celebrity around him. He’s the guy who’s good at economics. He’s Donald Trump, who you see on TV. And the reality of President Donald Trump was not quite that. Uh. But now we’ve got another four years that we’ve been on where, you know, Donald Trump sort of backed away from being in the news that much. He’s literally been on trial for felony charges, and most Americans were probably not that tuned in until maybe they heard about the verdict from, you know, someone who heard from someone. And so I still think that at this moment. And this will change by the time we get to November, that Trump has kind of reverted back in a lot of voters minds to celebrity Trump. And you see him cultivating this, right? He shows up at UFC events like that’s the that’s what he’s leaning back into this kind of I am, you know masculine I don’t care. I’m vibrant, I’m vigorous. He’s trying to set up a contrast with Biden in doing so. Um. But can that sustain itself over however many months we have until November, with lots of advertising reminding voters of what Trump was like as president? That’s where I’m not so sure. 

 

Jon Favreau: Well, John, that brings up like, the challenge of reaching younger voters in an information environment where they’re either not paying attention to political news or getting their news from social platforms like TikTok. Or, as Kristin was saying earlier, getting some political information from influencers who aren’t necessarily, like, explicitly political. Um. How is how has that changed the strategies necessary to communicate, uh with and persuade these voters and to because otherwise it becomes sort of a vibes thing that Kristen was just mentioning where it’s like, oh, Trump seems cool, and maybe it wasn’t that bad and he’s showing up at UFC and Biden seems really old. And I’m seeing all these videos of him fall, you know, looking looking frozen and whatever else. Like what what are those strategies like? 

 

John Della Volpe: Well, you need to play in that space. You need to you need to play in the vibes playground. Right? That’s that’s where young people get their information. You know, it’s quite clear, you know, um and that starts, I think, with, with really having sophisticated uh strategies around two channels. Around YouTube and TikTok, from those two platforms. And just not in, you know, 30 seconds, 60 second, nine second it could be in ten, 15 minute chunks of video on YouTube, which young people actually like, enjoy that seemingly long form of content if they’re able to learn something, because that is where information um is, is, is that’s like the central place in terms of where information is moving. From there it goes to, you know, Reddit and Discord and Twitch and the other gaming platforms. But these, these efforts, and they can’t be directly from the campaign. They are the least, you know, um uh you know, there are the least trusted um distributors of this sort of content. So what has to happen, I believe, is that, um like Trump has been doing in some way is tapping kind of influencers and newer ideas outside of the traditional political ecosystem. You know. See them on YouTube. See them on the ad free on the on the on the streaming platforms. Um. And begin to kind of reestablish and make some sort of connections on the issues that matter so that the younger person who is at the 4th of July picnic or headed moving into their dorm when they have that moment when another member of their group is questioning what it all means, or questioning government, or questioning the difference that information is available to be communicated from a a a peer to peer right. There needs to be some organization kind of top down seeding information through TikTok and uh, and YouTube in my belief. And then the which gives permission to other people to say, you know what, it may not be popular, I’m standing up for Biden because of this. 

 

Jon Favreau: Kristen, uh last question. For a younger voter who is uh open to the possibility of a second Trump term, isn’t sold yet. What do you think the most effective argument is that might make them pause and, and, and decide that they maybe they don’t want to pull that lever for Trump?

 

Kristen Soltis Anderson: So I think the notion that Donald Trump wants to be his, you know, he says, I want to be transformative. I want to be this wrecking ball. But the idea that he does not want to be transformative in a forward looking direction, but back, I mean, his message has always been Make America Great Again. It harkens back to a past. And I know that this is the summer of nostalgia, and that we’re in this moment where Gen Zers are like pulling up videos from when, like, people our age were graduating from high school and they’re like, oh, I miss that kind of an experience. Why don’t we have this? Like, I understand that there is some nostalgia for 1999 that is completely justified. That’s not what Donald Trump is talking about. He’s not talking about going back to 1999. And I think it is the fact that Trump has set himself up to say, yes, I want to blow things up, but the way I want to move them is to hit the rewind button and go back and reclaim something that we feel like has been lost. There are a lot of things in America’s past that are completely the opposite of what Gen-Z wants for their future. And so I think if if I was advising Democrats on how to best divorce Trump from the young voters who are curious about him, it would be that it wouldn’t be trying to say Trump is just as old as Biden or any of that stuff. It would be the, uh that that Trump does want to blow things up, that he does want to be vigorous and shake up the system. And he’s in a second term, he’s not going to be mild mannered about it. Um. He has said as much himself, but the direction that he wants to take things is the opposite direction of what you’re looking for. 

 

Jon Favreau: And John, uh say you have a young Biden 2020 voter in your life who’s not sure they want to vote for him again. You have a few minutes to persuade this person to get out and vote for Biden. What do you say? 

 

John Della Volpe: I’d say, why did you vote for him in 2020? And they’ll say something to the effect of, I wanted progress on student debt, on gun violence, on climate. And then I would remind them that despite in many ways, significant odds of Republicans fighting against, and the Supreme Court, he’s accomplished those things. He’s not only promised those things, he listened to young people, but he delivered in ways that no other president and in many decades has delivered for them, and that um, those things are at risk. They may not be where they need to be at this moment, but they’re at risk if he votes in some other way. 

 

Jon Favreau: John and Kristen, thank you so much for uh, for joining The Wilderness. This was a fascinating conversation. I really appreciate your time. 

 

Kristen Soltis Anderson: Thanks for having us. 

 

John Della Volpe: Thank you. 

 

Jon Favreau: I found John’s focus groups bleaker than most, but also enlightening, especially after my conversation with him and Kristen. These are two people with ties to the Democratic establishment and the Pre-Trump Republican establishment. But because they’ve both spent so much time talking to younger voters, it’s given both of them unique insight into where the future of American politics may be headed. And it’s a place that’s probably unrecognizable to the establishment of either party. Younger voters simply don’t have the same faith in institutions that older voters do. Some of that has to do with the fact that they don’t see themselves represented in those institutions. Some of it has to do with the fact that they feel let down by those institutions at a time when they don’t feel secure about their finances, their rights, or their safety. And some of it has to do with where and how they’re getting the news and information that shapes their worldviews. This presents an especially difficult challenge to the one party that’s currently fighting to defend our democratic institutions from the threat of authoritarianism. But the challenge isn’t insurmountable. We’ve already seen young people turn out in record numbers in 2018 and 2020 and 2022. We’ve seen them march and protest and organize with a sense of urgency and intensity that this moment demands. And as John and Kristen both mentioned, even if Gen Z doesn’t have much faith in the older people who are currently in charge, they have a lot of confidence in their own ability to make things happen. Just look at Anderson Clayton. 

 

[clip of Anderson Clayton] So right now in the state, we’ve got organizers on the ground. They are knocking doors across every county in North Carolina on every weekend. The traditional ways of of voter contact are not always going to be the most effective to reach young voters. And I think that where we have to really chase the margins and chase young people is showing up where they are. So that means on college campuses, that means at your place of work. I was in a rural county this past weekend, and one of the guys is running for um the county commissioner out there, looked at me and he goes, where do where are young voters at in this county Anderson? And I said, do you have a Lowe’s, a Walmart, a fast food restaurant anywhere in this county? Yes, absolutely. Because the majority of those entities are actually the number one um employer in those counties. Right. Sometimes. Walmart employs up to 300 people in any rural community that you live in right now. And so um looking at that and saying like, you know, where’s the shift change? Like on the on the shift change, like, are you out there with a clipboard asking those folks if they registered to vote? 

 

Jon Favreau: This is the kind of energy and creativity we need right now. We can’t just sit around and worry and wait for better things to happen. Better polls, better news cycles, better campaigns. We’ve got to go make it happen ourselves. We’ve got to go do the work like everything depends on us. Because it does. 

 

[clip of Anderson Clayton] I think about it, being in the South right now, and I’m like, voting this year is about survival to us in so many ways. 55% of Black Americans live in the South right now. And so I’m coming from a region that has felt overlooked and honestly ignored by a lot of the political apparatus in the entire country for a long period of time. And I need people to wake the fuck up this year that you’re not just voting for yourself. You are voting for every other person in this country, in this state that is marginalized and that does not have what they need right now. And it’s not about Donald Trump or Joe Biden. It is about the future of the world that you want to live in. If you don’t want to vote this year to protect the people around you, what do you want to vote for? Like genuinely. And that’s something that I think you’ve got to sit with it and decide for yourselves. And there may still be people after that look at me and say, Anderson, it ain’t worth it to me. And I’m like, but that’s on us. Like, that is humanity. And I’m like, I know that we’re better than that. We’re better than that as people, I know we have to be like we have to be this year. 

 

Jon Favreau: We know things aren’t great. We know our options aren’t perfect, and neither are we. But we can make things better. We can be better. And right now, we have to be. We’ll see you next time on The Wilderness. [music break] The Wilderness is a production of Crooked Media. It’s written and hosted by me, Jon Favreau. Our senior producer and editor is Andrea B. Scott. Austin Fisher is our producer and Farrah Safari is our associate producer. Sound design by Vasilis Fotopoulos, music by Marty Fowler. Charlotte Landes and Jordan Cantor sound engineered the show. Thanks to Katie Long, Reid Cherlin, Matt DeGroot, and Madeleine Haeringer for production support. To our video team, Rachel Gaewski, Joseph Dutra, Chris Russell, Molly Lobell and David Toles, who filmed and edited the show. If The Wilderness has inspired you to get involved, head on over to VoteSaveAmerica.com/2024 to sign up and find a volunteer shift near you. 

 

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