Young Voters Say Their Discontent Goes Deeper Than Israel and Gaza


The energy on Michigan college campuses ahead of the 2022 midterms, students said, was electric.

Armed with promises to protect abortion rights, Democratic candidates held large campus rallies, drawing crowds who came prepared to cheer, rather than protest. On Election Day, students showed up in droves — resulting in the highest youth turnout of any state, helping Democrats take full control of Michigan’s government for the first time in decades.

But before the Democratic presidential primary on Tuesday, the energy seems to have morphed into apathy or anger. Young activists have been at the forefront of sustained backlash to President Biden’s staunch support of Israel and its military campaign in Gaza, which began after Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7. Protest of U.S. policy culminated in an effort encouraging residents to vote “uncommitted” to send a message to Mr. Biden in the pivotal general election state.

Interviews with more than two dozen students across the state indicated a deeper well of dissatisfaction, not just with the incumbent president, but with the prospect of once again having to choose between two candidates — Mr. Biden and former President Donald J. Trump — decades older than them.

“It’s been a tense atmosphere on campus,” said Adam Lacasse, a co-chairman of the College Democrats at the University of Michigan. “A lot of people, if they’re not upset with what’s going on, with the administration’s handling of that conflict, they’re turned off from politics because they don’t want to get engaged in it.”

National polls have for months reflected a similar sentiment: Voters under 30, who backed Mr. Biden by more than 20 points in 2020, are unenthusiastic about a rematch between Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump, who is heavily favored in the Republican primary on Tuesday.

But for some young people in Michigan and elsewhere, Mr. Biden’s alignment with Israel has presented a new concern. Voters under 30 overwhelmingly voiced their opposition to the conflict in a December New York Times/Siena College poll, saying that Israel hadn’t done enough to prevent civilian casualties in Gaza and that the military campaign should stop.

Many college students in Michigan, regardless of where they stood on the foreign policy issue, described the conflict as nearly inescapable. Campus protests have become commonplace, and coverage of the war has dominated their social media feeds.

Hussein Bazzi, 24, a student at Wayne State University, said he would vote “uncommitted” to send a message to Mr. Biden: “that we want an immediate cease-fire.” Mr. Bazzi supported Mr. Biden in 2020 but is unsure whether he will again in November. “If that doesn’t send a clear message to him,” he said, “then I don’t know what does.”

Mr. Biden is still expected to easily win Tuesday’s primary. But the strength of his opposition will be closely watched as a signal about his support heading into November.

A poll commissioned by The Detroit News and WDIV-TV in January found that 15.6 percent of Michigan voters 18 to 29 had a favorable view of Mr. Biden.

“If you’re a Democratic incumbent running for re-election, young voters are an essential part of your coalition, and that is why the numbers we’re finding in Michigan show Joe Biden really has kind of a perilous path right now,” said Richard Czuba, an independent pollster in Lansing, Mich., who said Mr. Biden’s age was the primary driver of dissatisfaction.

Several Michigan leaders of College Democrats said they were concerned that young people were simply not excited about 2024. Even a small slip in Mr. Biden’s coalition, with voters staying home, could hurt his chances.

“I’m definitely not going to sugarcoat it: I personally am nervous,” said Liam Richichi, the vice president of College Democrats at Michigan State University. He added that students appeared “bored with the prospects that we have.”

“I’ve talked to a lot of people in the club, and something that we are actively trying to work against is the potential for low voter turnout,” he added, suggesting that the group might emphasize down-ballot races like the Senate election in November.

The Biden campaign deployed a few surrogates to reach young people before Tuesday: Representative Sara Jacobs of California held a discussion at the University of Michigan, and Gov. Wes Moore of Maryland led a virtual rally with students.

Alyssa Bradley, the Michigan communications director for the Biden campaign, said Mr. Biden “has taken historic action to support young Americans,” pointing to his passage of climate policy, millions in student loan forgiveness, and his backing of abortion access, which she said was a “stark contrast” from Mr. Trump.

“Our rights, our future and our democracy are on the line this election, and we’ll continue to engage young people to stop Donald Trump from returning to the White House, just like we did in 2020,” she said.

But some young people indicated in interviews that they were not aware of the president’s accomplishments on issues they cared about, part of a messaging challenge the campaign has sought to remedy by expanding its digital presence. (Mr. Biden made his first TikTok post this month.)

“I acknowledge the American right to vote, but we also have the right to not do so, especially if you don’t agree with any of the candidates,” said Aiden Duong, a 19-year-old student at Michigan State who is not part of the “uncommitted” effort. He said he did not plan to support Mr. Trump or Mr. Biden in November, citing their ages and what he perceived as inaction on climate change, a key issue for him.

Listen to Michigan, the group of primarily young organizers pushing for the “uncommitted” protest vote, has tried to capitalize on Democratic dissatisfaction by appearing on campuses, but has at times struggled reach that audience. The primary is taking place during a week when many Michigan students are on spring break, and many students still on campus weren’t aware of the election.

Around 100 people eventually showed up to an “uncommitted” rally on the University of Michigan’s Ann Arbor campus last week. Organizers encouraged attendees to stand in a large circle to take up more space. A march to the polls organized by Listen to Michigan at Kalamazoo College drew around 15 students on Saturday.

Mr. Biden said on Monday that he was hopeful for a cease-fire within the next week. But some students supporting the effort say that nothing will change their mind on Mr. Biden. Salma Hamamy, a student at the University of Michigan who has organized pro-Palestinian protests there, said that despite supporting Mr. Biden in 2020, she would not do so again.

“For me, he is beyond redemption — he has lost my vote because voting for him is basically me saying that I am OK with his actions,” said Ms. Hamamy, 22. “If that means Trump is elected, I blame the Democratic Party for allowing that to happen.”

Students backing Mr. Biden, however, argue that even as their peers remain skeptical, closely comparing the two candidates will be enough to win over young people as November draws nearer.

Immaculata James, a co-chair of the College Democrats at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Mich., pointed to the Biden administration’s work in areas such as college debt relief and health care costs in encouraging students to ask, “Even though it’s not a very exciting election, at the end of the day, what’s your future like under Trump versus under Biden?”

Donovan Greene, a senior at Kalamazoo College who attended the Listen to Michigan walk to the polls, said she supported Mr. Biden in 2020, calling him the “lesser of two evils,” but was voting “uncommitted” in the primary because of his Israel policy.

But Ms. Greene said that in her “last desperate moments,” she would consider backing him again in November, saying, “The changes that happened in the U.S. socially and economically under Donald Trump’s presidency were unequivocally what I don’t want to see.”

Source link


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here