Opinion | Biden has not lost the approval of young voters. He’s never really had them.

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If youth is the future, President Biden, with the latest figures, may not have much of one.

The Harvard Institute of Politics on Monday released the 43rd edition of the Harvard Youth Poll. The national survey of political sentiment among 18- to 29-year-olds comes at an appropriate time – right on the heels of two other polls this month that showed a stomach-churning decline in the commander-in-chief’s approval rating among young voters. The sinister made many commentators ask why. Now there is a place to search for answers.

What does the data show? Biden has not stopped inspiring a rising generation. Instead, he may never have really inspired that generation much at all.

Whether millennials and Gen Z like the country’s leader matters. They helped put him in the oval office in the first place by showing up at record speeds to vote overwhelmingly blue. But what appeared to be zeal could actually have been a mirage, according to polls from Quinnipiac University and Gallup. Boomers rates Biden about seven points lower today than they did in early 2020; among zoomers, he has lost about 21 points.

Perhaps, observers have speculated, the problem is broken promises. People expected action in relation to the climate, police work, voting rights. So far, they have not got it, and the planet is creeping ever closer to burning up. Young people are most capable of dreaming big in society – but they are less able to foresee that these dreams may not come true.

Still, the groups most likely to show a decline in their approval of a president, say polls, are the groups that pay the least attention. Those whose inboxes abound with newsletters about Capitol Hill events are usually committed enough to a team that they will not change their mind. And as it turns out, young people are feeling increasingly loyal to political parties.

So maybe young people feel bad about the president because they just feeling bad. Back during the pandemic, stimulus checks padded early professionals’ wallets, and prices remained stable while wages rose. This spring, inflation has started to rise, free money is no more, and somehow covid has still not completely divided the city. In addition, there are words that students will soon have to start paying off their debts again.

Both of these explanations probably have something about them. But more compelling are revelations from Harvard Youth Poll’s findings that suggest that today’s dissatisfaction is less an evolution than a return to the inevitable.

Head of Investigation John Della Volpe briefed on the differences between those who voted for the president and approved him today and those who voted for him but who rejected him today. The less fortunate, it turns out, consume less political information – even if they use more time in the cultural war zone that is Twitter. They view the current system as inefficient, and they think the movers and shakers in Washington look like elites instead of the little guy or girl.

Young people in general, the poll found, are dissatisfied with DC and not convinced that the government under the status quo can meet today’s challenges. The catch, however, is that they believe more than those before them that the government is valuable: that it must provide more things to more of the vulnerable, from health insurance to food and shelter.

These types of young people do not have to be very biased to identify with a philosophy, and they do not have to listen to podcasts or follow any illegal struggle to feel that today’s president and today’s Democratic Party do not stand for what they believe in – or at least not stand up for it. They just have to look at a country around them that is mostly unsatisfactory the same as it has ever been; a few minutes of doom-scrolling on Twitter would also do the trick. Nor did they need to pay much attention to realizing that Donald Trump basically embodied everything they are against.

That explains why Biden so far had to fall in the eyes of young people. Their disgust for a corrupt Republican party showed up sometimes and sometimes disguised as enthusiasm for him. He was the only hope of many voters to avoid something, or anyone, much worse – and his victory was a relief enough to inspire an era of good feelings that probably would not last. Now, with at least Trump’s threat less immediate, Biden seems old again. And when young, idealistic and casual observers of politics are asked how they feel about him, they send just that message back.

The president could not accomplish the societal transformation that many young people long for, even if he tried. Maybe that kind of revolution would give some lasting devotion, but as long as the opportunity remains limited by political reality, it might not matter as much what he does and does not do in the margin as how scary the alternative is.

Democrats still should not despair. The Harvard Youth Survey notes that the expected turnout is, after all, on track to match the last midterms. The threat from the GOP can remain clear and present enough to push young people out the door – even if Biden does not.

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