How Biden aims to bridge a canyon-sized generational gap

How does the oldest president in American history connect with voters who are 40, 50, or even 60 years younger than him? That’s the challenge facing President Biden, a 78-year-old politician who owed his election in part to a surge in turnout among Millennials and Gen Z voters.

His solution: bring Gen Z celebrities to the White House. Include young people in advisory circles. Advocate for policies to meet the needs of Generation Y.

“We have seen great signs from the administration showing how seriously it takes the needs of young people,” said Sarah Audelo, executive director of the Alliance for Youth Action, a national network of political groups in the world. local youth.

But, she added, “there is still work to be done.”

Audelo is concerned that Democrats’ financial support for groups that helped mobilize young voters for Biden in 2020 is waning. Other youth advocates believe Biden should put young people in the front ranks of the White House. They complain he failed to deliver on key election promises, including the fight against voter suppression and student loan debt cancellation, and warn that it will be more difficult to keep young people engaged now that President Trump has withdrawn from the scene.

“We are delighted to be removing Trump from office, but we want more of him,” said Ashley Priore, a 21-year-old student at the University of Pittsburgh who has been pushing for the creation of an office for young Americans in the White House. , be managed by a person under 25 years of age.

President Biden and First Lady Jill Biden with their grandchildren Natalie Biden and Hunter Biden arrive at the White House after a weekend getaway in Wilmington, Del., In March 2021.

(Manuel Balce Ceneta / Associated Press)

The average age of Biden’s initial cabinet is 59 – rather high but not out of step with recent presidents. A Brookings Institution analysis by Kathryn Dunn Tenpas found that the average age of early cabinets dating back to the Reagan administration was over 52, which is not surprising since cabinet secretaries are typically professionals. seasoned. Biden has a millennium in Cabinet – 39-year-old Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg – and others among the White House’s top advisers. Symone Sanders, 31, who advised Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign in 2016, is now a spokesperson for Vice President Kamala Harris.

Of course, the age of a president – and his advisers – does not in itself determine their ability to appeal to young people. Sanders, now 80, got far more support from voters under 30 in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary than Buttigieg, the youngest candidate on the pitch.

But Biden has struggled at times to connect with young people who see him as a man from another era. During the campaign, the generation gap was exposed when he drew complaints about his tendency to touch and kiss people he meets in politics. He apologized, attributing the problem to the change in “social norms”. During an appearance in the 2020 campaign on a radio show popular with young black and Latino listeners, he said that “if you are having a hard time determining if you are for me or Trump then you are not black. “, a remark which was particularly insulting and deaf to the young audience he was seeking to conquer.

Sanders is also a man from another era, but much of his appeal comes from his passion and progressive agenda, which spoke to a generation much more liberal than its elders. After Biden won the nomination, his approval rating among younger voters increased as his campaign intensified its reach and he moved to the left, adopting some of Sanders’ policies in the general election. .

A sign of the seriousness with which Biden took young voters seriously during the campaign: he hired pollster John Della Volpe, on leave from the Institute of Politics at Harvard Kennedy School, specifically to advise the campaign on this slice of the electorate, then made him a regular member of the upper advisory circle of the campaign.

“The voice of young people was regularly represented at the highest level of the campaign,” said Della Volpe, who oversees a Harvard poll that has polled young voters twice a year since 2000 and is the author of a book at appear, “FIGHT: How Gen Z channels their fear and passion to save America.

As president, Biden has taken steps to build and maintain connections with young people. He appointed Hannah Bristol, associate director of public engagement at the White House, to be the resource person for outreach to young voters.

Olivia Rodrigo, a Gen Z singer-songwriter, and Benny Drama, a 27-year-old comedian, have been invited to the White House to help promote COVID-19 vaccination among young people, although Biden has took some reviews for what critics saw as a very contrived move. The White House has also worked quietly to stem the flow of anti-vaccine messages to young people: Officials contacted rapper Nicki Minaj as she spread misinformation on Twitter, offering her the opportunity to speak to medical experts about vaccine safety.

At an LGBTQ pride event in June, Biden was introduced by Ashton Mota, 16, a transgender high school student. This month, the White House hosted student events to mark a week in honor of historically black colleges and universities. Other White House events were held on issues of particular concern to young people, such as higher education, climate change and gun safety.

Biden’s expanded tax credits to families with children have been a big boon to millennials, many of whom are in their 30s and have children. Those with preschoolers and younger children will also benefit from the child care program it offers.

On one of the biggest issues millennials and millennials face – a mountain of student loan debt – Biden extended a moratorium on student loan repayments that was first instituted under President Trump as an economic relief measure during the COVID-19 pandemic. His administration has also given debt relief to severely disabled borrowers and expanded assistance to people who have been cheated by colleges.

But Biden has yet to deliver on his campaign pledge to write off up to $ 10,000 in student loan debt for each borrower, let alone meet demands for a broader debt cancellation plan like the one advocated. by Sanders.

When it comes to climate change policy, a top priority for young progressives, Biden has proposed more ambitious policies than any previous president. But that still isn’t enough to satisfy activists in the Sunrise Movement, a youth-led climate group that has staged numerous protests to demand more aggressive action to tackle climate change.

On another front, some activists and supporters fear Biden is not doing enough to reach out to young Latinos. Cecilia González Herrera, a 22-year-old Venezuelan refugee who appeared in a campaign video for Biden in 2020, says Democrats’ biggest mistake was waiting six months before elections to communicate with Latinos and young people. She recorded an advertisement in Spanish during the campaign calling for efforts to bind Biden to socialism.

“I think the administration is doing very well, but I feel like we are a bit lacking in connection with Latinos,” said Herrera, who works for Mi Vecino, a nonprofit group that tries to register Latinos to vote. in Florida.

Biden hasn’t impressed former Sanders supporters like Evan Holt, a 33-year-old running for Cincinnati city council. He voted for Biden but is disappointed by the president’s continued opposition to the legalization of marijuana and his handling of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan.

But others who were “meh” on Biden during the campaign are happy with what they see in the White House.

“He wasn’t my first choice,” said Molly Hays, a student at the University of Virginia at Alexandria. “But he was pushed to the left, which is good for me.”