Older white male politicians have tapped into the youth vote before. Of course, there was Bernie Sanders, but don’t forget about then-74-year-old Ed Markey, who all of a sudden became a Gen Z icon in his 2020 Senate race.
In both cases, Gen Z supported them not only because of their commitment to fight for and defend the priorities that young people care about — which Biden has done — but also because they met and collaborated with young people at every turn possible. Sanders and Markey also showed young people exactly who they were: While they may have been old, they refused to back down on their ideals and came to resemble loving, but tough, grandparents. Biden can be a Gen Z icon, too, if he takes the same path.
Ultimately, young people want something and someone to vote for, not just against. They don’t want to have to choose between the lesser of two evils or simply oppose those who are trying to make our lives harder, as Republicans are actively doing now.
As it happens, Biden’s record for young people is actually quite strong. But he hasn’t done a good enough job selling it to my generation.
On nearly every issue that young people say they care about, Biden has delivered in some way.
Take climate change: Through his Inflation Reduction Act, Biden has invested $369 billion in tackling the climate crisis, and the United States is now on track to cut climate pollution in half by 2030. Last week, Biden also announced the cancellation of oil drilling in Alaska, a significant victory for the climate movement.
On student loans, even though a conservative Supreme Court struck down Biden’s original student loan forgiveness program, he’s continued to find alternatives to relieve the burden for student loan borrowers.
On gun violence, the leading cause of death among young people, Biden signed a bipartisan gun reform bill into law last year. The Safer Communities Act marked the first major gun reform legislation passed by Congress in 30 years.
Yet, there is still a disconnect between what Biden has achieved and the attitudes young people feel toward his administration. According to a recent New York Times poll, only 48 percent of those between the ages of 18 to 25 have a very favorable or favorable attitude toward the president. And although Biden’s support is higher than the same poll conducted a year ago — by 10 points — it’s still far from where it needs to be.
The White House isn’t oblivious to this reality, and it’s clearly taking some steps to help him connect with young people. But a lot more has to be done to get young people to embrace Biden’s reelection bid. Here’s what to do.
To start, Biden and his campaign should not shy away from his age. In the same New York Times poll, the largest concern for 18-25-year-olds was his age, with 40 percent of respondents listing it as the top reason why they would prefer someone else. The Biden team should lean into his age and make it cool, by further embracing the “Dark Brandon” visuals that can rebrand Biden as the 80-year-old who will not back down to Republicans.
We’ve also seen Biden talk about his age more openly and lightheartedly recently, like when he touted the wisdom that comes with getting to his age. That’s great. No one is going to forget how old he is.
Next, Biden strategists should remember that he’s a natural retail politician. Biden is empathetic, and yes, still good with a quip. As someone who has seen Biden speak in person, such characteristics only come to the fore when he’s out and about. Rather than giving prepared remarks, Biden should go to college campuses and talk with students. He should do fewer speeches and more town halls and roundtable discussions, where he can be his authentic self. If young people can see Biden is like their grandparents and is decent and kind — and can crack a few jokes — it can go a long way.
Biden also has to up his social media game and head to the platforms where young people actually go. Meet us where we are. Young people do not watch cable news or read traditional media. Most of us consume information through newer platforms like TikTok, Instagram and YouTube. (Forget about Facebook, and don’t even try the site formerly known as Twitter.)
The more Biden can collaborate with young influencers on those platforms and highlight his real results, the more young minds he can persuade. Who’s an influencer? Simply put, an influencer is someone who creates unique content and has gained a large social media following; it’s not just celebrities.
The most trusted messengers for young people aren’t parents, teachers or elected officials. It’s their peers. That’s what the research shows, and that’s what every parent already knows. So having more young influencers who can humanize Biden and amplify his accomplishments is critical — not only to educate other young people but also make them feel enthusiastic about what Biden has done and who he is. It’s the same reason President Barack Obama appeared on “Between Two Ferns” with Zach Galifianakis to plug the Affordable Care Act.
Biden should identify influencers and communities that would not otherwise engage in the political space and find ways to collaborate with them as much as possible. He could spend a night with the gaming community, like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez did to great effect, or appear at a concert with celebrities like Taylor Swift or Ariana Grande. The more Biden can show up in nontraditional spaces and show some authenticity, the more it will change the perception of Biden for the better.
Biden officials are at least somewhat aware of this dynamic; they briefed young influencers before the 2022 midterm elections. They also held White House events with content creators like TikTok star Dylan Mulvaney and singer Olivia Rodrigo. But this should be happening on a much more frequent basis, not just in the White House, and with even more young influencers.
Young people have never been more enthusiastic to participate in our democracy. And there has never been a president who has done more for young people than Joe Biden. If Biden and his team take this advice, he’ll find that young people will be fired up to vote for the oldest president ever — and give him another term to do even more for our generation.