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Young voters have had enough of their (much) older leaders

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Alexandra Chadwick went to the polls in 2020 with the singular goal of ousting Donald J. Trump. As a 22-year-old voter, she saw Joseph R. Biden Jr. more as a security than an inspirational political figure, one who could ward off threats to abortion access, gun control, and climate policy.

Two years later, when the Supreme Court eroded federal protections for all three, Ms. Chadwick now sees President Biden and other Democratic leaders lacking both the imagination and willpower to fight back. She points to a generation gap—a gap she once overlooked but now seems hollow.

“How are you going to run your country accurately if your mind is still stuck 50, 60 or 70 years ago?” Ms. Chadwick, a customer service representative in Rialto, California, said of the many twenty-seven-year-old leaders at the helm of her party. “It’s not the same, and people aren’t the same, and your old ideas won’t work as well anymore.”

A survey by The New York Times and Siena College found that only 1 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds like the way Mr. Biden does his job. And 94 percent of Democrats under 30 said they wanted another candidate in two years. Of all age groups, young voters were the most likely to say they would not vote for Biden or Trump in a hypothetical 2024 rematch.

The numbers are a clear warning to Democrats struggling to fend off a beating in November’s midterm elections. Youths, long one of the least reliable members of the party coalition, marched for gun control, rebelled against Mr Trump and helped spark a wave of democracy in the 2018 midterm elections. They still side with the Democrats on issues that only attract attention.

But four years on, many are feeling disconnected and deflated, with just 32 percent saying they’re “almost confident” to vote in November, according to the poll. Nearly half said they didn’t think their vote made a difference.

Interviews with these young voters reveal generational tensions fueling their frustration. Having come of age with racial strife, political strife, high inflation and a pandemic, they have sought help from politicians more than three times their age.

Those older leaders often talk about preserving institutions and restoring norms, while young voters say they are more interested in results. Many expressed a desire for more sweeping changes, such as a viable third party and a new breed of younger leaders. They would like innovative action on the problems they will inherit, they said, rather than returning to what worked in the past.

“Every member of Congress, every single one of them, I’m sure has gone through some pretty traumatic times in their lives and also chaos in the country,” said John Della Volpe, who studies young people’s minds as an election director. at the Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics. “But every congressman has also seen America at its best. And that’s when we all got together. That’s something Gen Z hasn’t had.”

At 79, Mr. Biden is the oldest president in US history and just one of many Democratic Party leaders heading into their 80s. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is 82. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer is 83. 71-year-old Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is the baby of the couple. Mr Trump is 76.

In a 2020 election rematch, Biden would lead 38 to 30 percent among young voters, but 22 percent of voters aged 18 to 29 said they wouldn’t vote if those candidates were their choice, the vast majority of all voters . age limit.

Those voters include Ellis McCarthy, 24, who has a few part-time jobs around Bellevue, Ky. McCarthy says she longs for a government that is “all brand new.”

The father of Mrs. McCarthy, an electrician and union member who teaches at a local vocational school, met Mr. Biden last summer when the president visited the training facility. The two men talked about his union and his job—two things he loved. Not long after, her father fell ill, was hospitalized and, after his recovery, was soured by the health care system and what the family saw as Mr. Biden’s failure to fix it.

“It feels like it’s Biden, or it’s Trump, nobody steps in to be a voice for people like me,” she said. “Workers are left outside to dry.”

Denange Sanchez, a 20-year-old student at Eastern Florida State College, of Palm Bay, Florida, sees Mr. Biden as “sloppy” on his promises.

Ms. Sanchez’s mother is a housekeeper and does most of the cleaning herself, with Denange helping out where she can. Her entire family — including her mother, who has heart disease and a pacemaker — has struggled with Covid attacks, with no insurance. Even when she was sick, her mother was up all day making home remedies, Ms. Sanchez said.

“Everyone said we would eradicate this virus. Biden has made all those promises. And now no one is taking the pandemic seriously anymore, but it is still all around us. It’s so frustrating,” she says. Ms. Sanchez, who is a medical student, also included college debt cancellation on her list of unfulfilled promises from Mr. Biden.

Democratic politicians and pollsters are well aware of the problem they face with young voters, but they insist that there is time to engage them in issues they prioritize. Recent Supreme Court decisions to repeal a constitutional right to abortion, limit states’ ability to control the carrying of firearms and reduce the federal government’s regulatory powers over climate-warming emissions begin now take root in voter consciousness, said Jefrey Pollock, a pollster for House Democrats.

“We are no longer talking about a theory; we’re talking about a Supreme Court turning back the country fifty years or more,” he said. “If we can’t get that message across, shame on us.”

While middle-age voters have consistently identified the economy as a top concern, it’s just one of many for younger voters, roughly linked to abortion, the state of American democracy, and gun policies.

That’s a dilemma for Democratic candidates in tough districts, many of whom say they should focus their election messages almost exclusively on the economy, but perhaps at the cost of boosting younger voters.

Tate Sutter, 21, feels that disconnected. Born in Auburn, Calif., and a graduate of Middlebury College in Vermont, Mr. Sutter said he watched Fourth of July fireworks and cringed as a new fire season begins and aggressive federal action to curb global warming in Congress comes to a stop. Sure enough, he said, he could see a forest fire flaring up in the hills to the south.

“Climate plays a big part for me in my politics,” he said, expressing his dismay that Democrats aren’t talking about it anymore. “It’s very frustrating.”

Mr Sutter said he understood the limits of Mr Biden’s powers with an evenly divided Senate. But he also said he understands the power of the presidency and failed to see Mr. Biden exercise it effectively.

“With age comes a lot of experience and wisdom and just know-how. But in terms of perception, he seems out of touch with people of my generation,” he said.

After years of feeling that politicians don’t talk to people like him, Juan Flores, 23, says he has turned his attention to local voting initiatives on issues like housing or homelessness, which he says are more likely to affect his life. Mr. Flores went to data analytics school but drives a van for Amazon in San Jose, California. There, house prices average well over $1 million, making it difficult, if not impossible, for residents to live on a single income.

“I feel like a lot of politicians, they already come from a good upbringing,” he said. “A majority of them don’t really understand the scope of what the majority of the American people are going through.”

The Times/Siena College poll found that 46 percent of young voters preferred Democratic control of Congress, while 28 percent wanted Republicans to take the lead. More than one in four young voters, 26 percent, don’t know or declined to say which party they want to control Congress.

Ivan Chavez, 25, of Bernalillo, NM, said he identified as independent in part because neither side had made convincing arguments against people his age. He is concerned about mass shootings, a youth mental health crisis and climate change.

He would like to see external candidates get more attention. He plans to vote in November, but does not know who he will support.

“I think right now the Democrats are afraid of the Republicans, the Republicans are afraid of the Democrats,” he said. “They don’t know which way to go.”

Young Republican voters were least likely to say they want Mr. Trump as the party’s nominee by 2024, but Kyle Holcomb, a recent Florida college graduate, said he’d vote for him if it came down to it.

“Literally, if someone other than Biden ran, I’d feel more comfortable,” he said. “I just love the idea of ​​having someone in power who can project their vision and goals effectively.”

Young Democrats said they wanted the same thing in their leaders: vision, dynamism, and maybe a little bit of youth, but not too much. Several young voters brought up Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 32-year-old Democrat from New York. Ms. Chadwick praised her youth and willingness to speak out — often to her older colleagues in Congress — and summed up her appeal in one word: “comprehensibility.”

Michael C. Bender and Alyce McFadden contributed coverage.

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