Could that help produce the sort of youth turnout in this election that we last saw in 2008, when Barack Obama’s first presidential run inspired young people to pour out to the polls in unprecedented numbers?
The answer to this might be yes, according to a new poll of 18- to 29-year-olds from the Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics.
The poll finds that among likely voters in that 18-to-29 demographic, Biden is leading President Trump by 60 percent to 27 percent among likely voters. That’s significantly better than the 49 percent that Hillary Clinton got in this poll in 2016.
But that’s not all. The poll also finds that an astonishing 63 percent of respondents say they will “definitely be voting,” compared to 47 percent in the 2016 version of this poll.
That matches 2008 levels. The 2008 version of this poll found that among a somewhat smaller segment of young voters, approximately the same percentage said they’d definitely be voting.
While this comparison between the two subsets isn’t perfect, it nonetheless indicates that it’s reasonable to posit that 18- to 29-year-olds might post 2008-level turnout this time, according to Chase Harrison, the acting director of the Institute of Politics poll.
“I would assume that we should see actual turnout among 18-to-29 year-olds similar to actual turnout in 2008,” Harrison told me. “Young voters care about this election.” If so, that would be striking.
Now here a wrinkle intrudes: In 2008, in the end turnout among young voters was somewhat lower than what they indicated in this poll (since not all voters who say they will vote end up doing so).
But still, in 2008 the turnout among this youth demographic ended up being 48.4 percent of eligible voters, according to data from University of Florida demographer Michael McDonald.
That dwarfs youth turnout in any election going back at least to the mid-1980s. If that replicates itself, it could give a lift to efforts to defeat Trump.
Here another wrinkle intrudes: The poll also finds that enthusiasm for Biden is lagging a bit, with 44 percent of young Trump voters being very enthusiastic about voting for him while 30 percent of young Biden voters say the same.
Despite this, not only is Biden winning by 2-to-1 among these voters; the overall demographic is promising 2008 levels of turnout. How can this be?
Harrison suggests that it might be rooted in recent events.
“This is a cohort that has been in many ways uniquely affected by covid,” Harrison told me. “Many younger voters have had their entry into the labor market delayed. They’re facing all sorts of challenges.”
Harrison pointed out that many young voters might have more of an identification with young immigrants who were brought here illegally as children and thus enjoyed the Obama-era protections for “dreamers” that Trump has tried to destroy. He noted that this cohort is more racially and ethnically diverse than even the 18-to-29 year-olds who rallied behind Obama the first time.
And, of course, for many young voters, the protests that have swept the country might be their first serious experience of political activism and engagement, similar to how the young people who rallied behind Obama were galvanized by opposition to the Iraq War.
“Many of the things that people have been concerned about with Donald Trump have been observed more closely by 18- to 29-year-olds,” Harrison said.
Trump, of course, has botched the coronavirus crisis with unique awfulness, even as he’s actively sought to incite a backlash against the protests, which has included unleashing federal law enforcement and threatening to send troops into major cities. And so, if youth turnout really does have a chance of attaining 2008 levels, perhaps this will constitute another way Trump has made his own comeuppance more likely.