The youths Of America are not for Joe Biden—at least not yet.
They have not embraced a candidate who emblazoned the word malarkey on his campaign bus, who summoned the ghost of John Wayne to chastise a college student, who urged parents in the 21st century to keep a “record player” on for their children, and who hasn’t been able to match the unlikely cool factor of a rival a year even older than himself.
Over the past 10 days, the former vice president has reassembled the multiracial, urban, and suburban coalition that powered Barack Obama to victory in 2008 and Democrats to a House majority in 2018—with one major exception. Even in double-digit defeats, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont has dominated among primary voters under the age of 30, extending a wide generational gap that defined his race against Hillary Clinton in 2016 and that might have contributed to her loss to Donald Trump that fall. In Michigan and Missouri, Sanders won 70 percent and 76 percent of the vote among voters under 30, respectively, according to exit polls.
Younger voters have not shown up in numbers nearly large enough for Sanders to overcome Biden’s strength among older Democrats; a surge in turnout among older people has obscured any gains in the youth vote, relegating Millennials and first-time voters to a smaller share of the primary electorate than they made up four years ago. But while the relative lack of enthusiasm from voters in their teens and 20s is bad news for Sanders in the short term, it could also be worrisome for Biden in the long term. In the general election, Democratic presidential candidates rely on huge margins among younger voters to counteract the conservative tilt and higher turnout rates of middle-aged and older Americans.