Analysis: Biden Can Still Improve Among Young Voters, And There Is Reason To Believe He Will

This is the fifth piece in NDN's weekly Thursday polling round-up. You can find previous weeks' pieces here.

It is our view, as we've written in past weeks, that the 2020 election environment remains remarkably similar to that of 2018, when Democrats won the popular vote by 8.6 percentage points and took back the House. As of this morning, Trump has a -9.7 net approval rating, Dems lead the generic congressional ballot by 7.9 points, and Biden leads Trump head-to-head by 5.1 points - all numbers that point towards a stable advantage for the Democrats as we head into the summer.

In one area, however, Biden is underperforming Democrats' strength in 2018 - among younger voters. In 2018, Democrats won voters under 45 by 25 points (the highest margin among this demographic since at least 1972) and won voters under 30 by 35 points (also the highest margin among this group since at least 1972). While Biden is still clearly winning young voters against Trump, his margins are smaller than this 2018 advantage. In four high quality polls released in May (Monmouth, QuinnipiacYouGov, and CNN), Biden is winning young voters (under 35s for Monmouth, Quinnipiac, and CNN; under 30s for YouGov) by 27, 19, 13, and 8 points. There is clearly much uncertainty in the data about exactly how far young people currently lean towards Biden, but each poll finds their support smaller than the +35 margin for Dems in 2018, and the average of the four polls is just +17. 

The question, then, of whether Biden can win over young voters who supported Dems in 2018 but currently don't support him is a critical one for 2020. In the 2016 presidential election, people under 30 made up 19% of all voters. Assuming that number is relatively steady in 2020, moving Biden's margin among under 30s from his current +17 (average of the four May polls) to the 2018 Dem margin of +35 would net Biden 3.4 points in the popular vote, and even moving under 30s just half of that distance (from +17 to +26) would get him an additional 1.7 points. Considering Biden's current lead of 5-6 points in the head-to-head polling against Trump, these additional votes could put the election away for Biden. 

What is the likelihood that young people do make this move to Biden by November 2020 then? While these types of predictions clearly have great uncertainty, it is our view that there is good reason to believe they will. First, young people strongly dislike Trump, and have done so consistently for several years (i.e. they never supported him in anything close to large numbers). According to Civiqs national polling which has tracked Trump's daily approval since 2017, voters under 35 currently have a net -34 approval rating of the President and the highest that approval rating has ever been since January 2017 is just -31. Even if young voters don't particularly like Biden (or prefer Sanders to Biden), we think it is likely that they will vote for him anyways as a vote against Trump. 

Second, young people voted by a margin of +35 for Democrats in 2018, even though the majority of Democratic candidates (especially in the battleground districts) were ideologically closer to Biden than to Sanders. Of the 59 freshman Democrats elected to the House in 2018, 40 joined the moderate New Democrat Coalition. Again, it seems likely that young people here were strongly motivated to vote by their opposition to Trump, even if they didn't fully agree with their Democratic candidate.

And finally, there is reason to believe that the recent support of Bernie Sanders (who young people strongly supported over Biden in the Democratic primary) for Biden and close cooperation between the two (for example, the recent unveiling of joint policy groups between Biden and Sanders) will cause pro-Sanders young people to become more favorable towards Biden. In 2016, Sanders' voters initially had quite unfavorable views of Clinton when Sanders dropped out but those views became much more favorable by November 2016, and this is even likelier to happen now given that Sanders' voters in 2020 are much more favorable towards Biden than they were towards Clinton in 2016. 

As always, below you can find a detailed aggregate of the most important polling data (in our view) for understanding where the 2020 election currently stands.

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