The Tylt

Gen Z and Millennials are playing it safe by trading in Sanders for Biden

Young versus old: It's a timeless clash. Older generations shake their heads and cluck their tongues at the naïveté of those greener in age. In turn, young people accuse baby boomers and Gen X of not taking their struggles seriously. This rift often bubbles up in politics, where young voters have tended to turn away from establishment candidates. But lacking a presidential hopeful they feel fully speaks for them in the 2020 race, and faced with increasingly uncertain times, Gen Z and Millennials may be ready to put their votes behind a stable (if not fully representative) choice in Joe Biden. 

It’s certainly an interesting turn of events for a demographic that so clearly “felt the Bern” at the start of the primaries. With a progressive message that made him a star on the national stage in 2016, Senator Bernie Sanders garnered the much coveted attention of younger voters. Toward the end of January, when the Democratic discussion around nominees was centered on Biden and Sanders, Eric Levitz of New York Magazine opined how, “Biden’s support among the young is historically low for a front-running candidate, while Sanders’s popularity with the contingent is exceptionally high. It will be hard enough for Biden to mobilize younger voters…If Uncle Joe has to win Millennial and Gen Z hearts and minds—after riding to the nomination on the back of a wall-to-wall anti-Bernie ad blitz from Third Way and Friends—his task may be impossible.” 

At that moment, The Tylt’s own data reflected the fervor surrounding Sanders, as Gen Z and Millennial audiences rushed to cast their predictions in his favor: 59.5 percent believed he had a chance of winning the presidency while an overwhelming 94.6 percent believed Biden should drop out of the race entirely. All data pointed to Sanders after his sweeping victory in New Hampshire to be the one to take on President Trump. With so many young voters in tow, how could he lose?  

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Then came Super Tuesday. Young voters failed to materialize in large numbers. And many who did go to the polls chose Biden, who dominated with victories across the South and Texas. In the week that followed, Tylt audiences also echoed this swing from Sanders to Biden. More than 60.2 percent believed that former Democratic front-runner, Elizabeth Warren, should endorse Biden over Sanders. In a face-off, 65.8 percent of Tylt voters favored Biden over Sanders outright. A Quinnipiac poll on March 9 showed similar results: 54 percent of those polled hoped to see Biden sworn in come January 2021. What happened?  

In early March, young voters seemed more responsive to Biden’s call for calming restoration over Sanders’ rousing drumbeat for a revolution. With President Trump’s style of chaotic politics and a divisive tone, Biden was the stable option to voters who might have turned out for Sanders in a different climate. As the coronavirus pandemic unfolded in late March, Sanders’ message on healthcare failed to move the momentum back in his direction. In the wake of the outbreak, Biden became the solid choice in a race against Trump, who Gen Z and Millennials view with great trepidation. When asked whether they trusted the Trump administration to properly handle the spread and effects of COVID-19, 69 percent of voters—62.24 percent of whom were ages 18 to 34—responded in the negative. They are increasingly unsure of the competency in the current administration and seem to prefer casting their ballot for someone who has proven experience. 

Additionally, uniting against Trump is, for many, far more important than getting an idealist such as Sanders into the White House. The fear of how the administration is handling threats both big and small, foreign and domestic, looms large, particularly for young adults. Many of them realized that Sanders was still too far from the status quo to be a viable candidate. Better to play it safe with Biden for this go-round, then let the Bernies of the world make real changes later. 

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One of the greatest deciding factors in how the rest of Biden’s campaign pans out is, of course, his pick for vice president. During The Tylt’s own “Hash It Out” series on Facebook, voters seemed very particular about Biden choosing a woman as his running mate: both Amy Klobuchar and Kamala Harris garnered around 70 percent of Tylt approval ratings. Now more than ever, the American public perceives those they elect to the White House as a part of a team effort; the POTUS of 2021 should rely on the counsel of those surrounding him, his VP included. This is the spot where Gen Z and Millennials hope to have someone whose ears are tuned into their grievances, and whose key values reflect their own. 

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Like any generation, at the end of the day, Gen Z and Millennials seek stability during an uncertain era. For the time being, Joe Biden serves as a solid foundation amidst shaky ground. And foundations, after all, are what real change is built upon.