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HomeopinionDemocracy, Democrats, and Young People Will Save This Country

Democracy, Democrats, and Young People Will Save This Country

If Americans based all of their political anxieties and opinions on current headlines, we very well might conclude that President Joe Biden and the Democratic Party are doomed in 2024. A week ago, The Washington Post and ABC released a poll—which those outlets themselves quietly admitted was an outlier—that led with how concerned voters are about Biden’s handling of the economy, immigration, as well as his age. Other pundits are calling on President Biden to drop out of the 2024 race because of his “low approval numbers” and that he is destined to lose, they say.

But none of this is surprising, correct, or new.

One doesn’t have to look far back to see how history is repeating itself. Take, for instance, the 2020 election. Newsrooms across the nation suggested that then-candidate Biden would never clinch the Democratic nomination—until he did. Then, pundits and the media doubted President Biden’s ability to win against Donald Trump—until he did. After winning the 2020 election, the media questioned Biden’s ability to work across the aisle and pass legislation. In reality, Biden has accomplished more than any modern president, even with a divided government. And, of course, in 2022, headlines predicted there would be a massive “Red wave.” Yet Democrats gained seats in the Senate and lost only a handful of seats in the House—defying six decades of precedent.

Given the massive disconnect between what the pundits and polls predict and what happens, Democrats have no reason to be discouraged this time around. There are two trends, in particular, that should give Democrats more hope and frighten Republicans this time around compared to 2022: The consistent overperformance of expectations by Democrats in local elections and the increased the vigor and passion from young voters.

For decades, Republicans have invested in and targeted local and state elections. And it has largely paid off by slowly tipping the balance of school boards, municipalities, and state legislatures. That’s why Republicans have been so successful in gradually overturning fundamental rights through state supreme courts and passing anti-democratic bills at the local level in recent years.

However, the bottom-up approach that Republicans spent decades solidifying is crumbling at breakneck speed. No matter how much the polls may suggest a bleak political future for Democrats, what matters above all else is what is happening on the ground in 2023 alone.

This year, there have been 31 special elections to date. On the surface, each election result may not lead anyone to raise eyebrows or question its significance. After all, turnout was often not astronomical and national outlets have not focused much on them. But examining all 31 special elections together, and in the context of history, paints a much different—and promising—picture for Democrats: There was an overperformance of expectations among Democrats by an average of 11 points in 25 out of 31 races, according to a new ABC analysis of special elections in 2023. Lest one thinks these special elections are all in traditionally blue states like California or New York, they are not; many are in competitive states that could determine the outcome of the 2024 election.

Consider the hotly contested Wisconsin Supreme Court election that took place in April 2023. In this case, Democrats flipped the court for the first time in more than 15 years. A few weeks ago, a Democrat won a special election in Pennsylvania, tipping the balance of power in the State House away from Republicans. In New Hampshire, a Democratic candidate flipped a county Trump won in 2016 and 2020 by more than 12 points, bringing the Democratic caucus one vote closer to breaking even with Republicans in the state house.

Contrary to what many headlines read, these results spell doom for the very survival of the Republican Party in 2024. But of even greater concern for the GOP is young people. Whereas Republicans may have once held onto power at the state and local levels by relying on majority white and older voters who consistently vote in elections, Generation Z is the most diverse generation and poses the biggest threat to their staying in power. By 2024, we will account for the largest voting demographic of any age cohort.

Young people have never been more dangerous for Republicans than they are now. A new analysis by Politico crystallizes the intensifying shift toward Democrats by analyzing how “college towns are decimating the GOP.” From 2000 to 2020, out of America’s 171 college towns, more than 65 percent shifted increasingly Democratic. In one instance, the area surrounding the University of Colorado at Boulder saw the Democratic vote share grow by nearly 170,000, compared to only 21,000 for Republicans, in only 20 years.

What’s more: The shift leftward among young people is not just in Democratic strongholds, but also happening in historically Republican states. Consider Tennessee: after far-right state legislators expelled state representatives Justin Jones and Justin Pearson over gun violence, young people across the state took to the streets and protested Republicans for doing nothing to address our concerns. Like Tennessee, young people in North Carolina went to the Republican-controlled state legislature and demanded they finally act on gun violence. And in states like Arizona, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, young people have already proved their overwhelming rejection of the Republican Party by voting more Democratic than ever before in the 2022 midterm elections.

As one 17-year-old from North Carolina recently testified to a local school board, young people are sick and tired of Republicans’ attacks on young people. A movement of young people who otherwise would never participate in politics are paying attention. They are making their voices heard in the streets. Most importantly, they are registering to vote, voting, and even running for office across the country. And every sign indicates that our generation’s power will continue to grow.

This does not absolve Biden or the Democratic Party from putting in the work ahead of 2024 and continuing to deliver for and meet young people where they are. That must continue. But if there’s anything clear, it’s that, as much as the media and headlines want to focus on polls and surveys, what real voters are saying and doing on the ground paints a far different reality. And it’s a reality that should give Biden, the Democratic Party, and anyone who cares about the future of our democracy hope and optimism.

Victor Shi is a senior at UCLA, co-host of the iGen Politics Podcast, and strategy director for Voters of Tomorrow. Previously, Shi was elected the youngest delegate for Joe Biden and has worked on presidential, state, and local campaigns. Follow him on Twitter @Victorshi2020.

The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.

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