The Biden campaign has been deluged with advice from various activist groups about how he can shore up his standing with young voters and make sure they don't stay home in November. Eight activist groups, including Justice Democrats and the Sunrise Movement, sent his campaign a long, long list of positions he needed to take to jazz young voters. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortes opined that Biden needed to get "uncomfortable" with his issue positions to unlock a treasure trove of votes from Latinos and young people.
But how true is this? Is Biden really in so much trouble among young voters that he needs heroic efforts to improve his standing? How much sense does it really make to extrapolate from poor performance among a group in a primary context to poor performance in a general election?
Political scientist Brian Arbour thinks: not much. He notes, correctly I think:
"A review of recent elections shows that just because a candidate has a weakness with a particular group of primary voters does not mean he will be weak with that same group in the general election.
The warnings that Democrats have offered Biden in 2020 echo those that Obama received in 2008 from Hispanic Democrats that “he risks losing the Latino vote in the general election if he does not reach out to Hispanic voters.” These warnings were overstated; in November, Obama won Hispanics in a landslide 67-32, a 15-point improvement over John Kerry’s performance in 2004 with this group.
Trump faced a similar problem in 2016 with Republican voters who attended religious services at least once a week. The Pew Research Center found that “[t]wo-thirds of regular churchgoing Republicans were not supporting Trump for the GOP nomination even in April.” Yet in the general election, Trump won white evangelicals by a whopping 81-16 margin, three points better than Mitt Romney did with this group in 2012....
[T]he mix of candidates is different in the general election, and voters compare not multiple Democrats or Republicans to each other, but a Democrat to a Republican. And in a general election, the performance of the incumbent party in office is often the most important factor in explaining shifts in vote choice. Hispanics in 2008, conservatives in 2012, and working-class whites in 2016 were all displeased with how the policies of the Bush and Obama administrations had affected their group.
So how will Biden perform among young voters in 2020? As of now, we can only speculate. The premise behind the left-wing suggestion that Biden make policy changes to appeal to young voters is to avoid what happened in 2016. Hillary Clinton proved unable to get enough young voters to the polls to overcome Trump’s advantages with evangelicals and other working-class whites.
Yet, the 2018 midterms tell us a different story. Just as they did last week, progressive Democrats urged their party to shift their platform to the left to appeal to non-voters in 2016, pushing “Medicare-for-all” as an issue that could boost turnout. Justice Democrats, one of the signers of the letter to Biden last week, issued a detailed report to make this case.
The party broadly ignored this advice, instead focusing their health care appeals on small-bore issues like protecting the ban on insurance companies rejecting applicants for preexisting conditions. The Democrats' turnout strategy in 2018 was to rely on anger toward Trump to motivate voters. This worked. Democrats took back the majority in the U.S. House in large part by winning young voters 64-34. Midterm turnout reached unprecedented levels."
And not only did midterm turnout reach historic levels, it went up more (16 points) than among other age groups!
"Joe Biden might do well to follow this model from 2018 and...let Donald Trump be in charge of his voter mobilization program."