The last three cycles saw historic levels of youth participation — and the cohort is as progressive as ever — but if these voters stay home in 2024 as a result of these shifts in attitudes, Della Volpe said, it could doom the incumbent president and Democrats.
“I feel like it’s a responsibility to ring this alarm now, when there’s time to do something about it,” said Della Volpe, the director of polling at the Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics. “These voters gotta buy into the values of the party and the candidates … and to appreciate the fact that politics can make a difference. You can’t do that in a full-week ad buy after Labor Day.”
Biden world insists it’s not taking young people for granted. One of Della Volpe’s former students, Richard Sweeney, was recently hired by senior Biden aides as a White House policy analyst with a special focus on young people. Sweeney will be meeting with young advocates and working across departments — the Office of Public Engagement, the Office of Political Strategy and Outreach, digital and comms — to reach young people on priorities such as climate, LGBTQ issues and abortion rights, a White House official said.
And Christian Tom, who until last August worked under former Office of Digital Strategy director Rob Flaherty, just returned to the White House last week to lead that operation and find new ways to engage with young people.
Yes, that will mean more White House celeb sightings like BTS and Olivia Rodrigo. But Tom’s office is working closely with senior advisers who monitor focus group research to ensure they’re hitting key policy issues. His team is also deploying a rapid response strategy that leans on its social media influencer network.
After the Supreme Court’s student loan decision came down last month, senior White House officials hopped on a Zoom call with a couple dozen influencers who synthesized the information on their respective accounts, driving around 6 million views across TikTok, Instagram and Twitter, according to a White House official. One user, Vivian, a former Wall Street trader also known as @yourrichbff, posted a video breaking down the decision, and this week posted another Tiktok highlighting what comes next.
On the campaign side, Flaherty will join the reelect in a senior role, where he’ll have a hand in digital strategy, though his official title and start date haven’t been announced.
Biden’s team will also lean on young surrogates like “Tennessee Three” Rep. Justin Jones, 27, who was expelled by Republicans after protesting in support of gun restrictions, and Rep. Maxwell Frost (D-Fla.), a 26-year-old member of the president’s national advisory board.
“Youth turnout is something that we should never think is in the bag. This surge we’ve seen since 2018, even though it has really kept up over the last three cycles, is also very new,” Frost told West Wing Playbook.
Messaging on Biden’s record is a piece of it, but surrogates will also tap into opposition to Donald Trump and a rollback of rights. Finding new ways to do this is vital, Frost said.
A video of Frost on stage in Washington with Paramore and his Ron Desantis F-bomb went viral last month, but a bigger impact occurred the next week when the band let Frost’s team set up a table at its Orlando show and collect signatures to get an abortion constitutional amendment on the Florida ballot in 2024. They secured around 1,800 signatures at the venue in just hours.
For its part, the DNC is training young voters on how to mobilize on college campuses, working with gun violence prevention groups and providing resources to help these voters land jobs in Democratic politics.
The DNC will also leverage partnerships with youth voter groups like NextGen America, the country’s largest youth voter operation. The organization plans to spend tens of millions to get Biden reelected, said its president, Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez.
“No candidate can alone win with the youth vote,” she said, “but I can promise you that if a Democrat doesn’t have the youth vote, they will lose.”