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What Do Young Voters Want In Joe Biden’s VP Pick?

What Do Young Voters Want In Joe Biden’s VP Pick?

  • As Joe Biden’s VP pick announcement day approaches, pundits and voters alike continue to debate who will become his running mate.
  • Below, I examine how the opinions and preferences of a key voting demographic--young voters--might influence Biden’s decision.
Joe Biden

Appealing to young voters has never been Joe Biden’s strongest suit. As I discussed in a recent article, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee has traditionally garnered support from older and more moderate voters, including during the most recent primaries. A key strategy to winning youth support could come from Biden’s choice of running mate. But, what do young voters want in Joe Biden’s VP pick? Let’s explore.

According to recent polling, whoever is more liberal than Biden.  A Morning Consult/Politico poll released in April revealed that 27% of voters under 45 said that it was “somewhat” or “very” important to them that Biden chooses a running mate more liberal than himself.  Among this younger demographic, “more liberal than Biden” was the third most popular characteristic for a potential running mate, after “legislative experience” and “executive experience.”

In line with this finding, several polls demonstrated a trend of young voters supporting Elizabeth Warren, who has long touted a more progressive ideology. A June College Reaction/Axios poll of college students found that 28% of respondents supported Warren as VP, followed by 19% who supported Senator Kamala Harris, and 13% who supported former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams.

A separate Civiqs poll from Data for Progress surveyed Democrat/Democratic-leaning independent voters aged 18 to 34 in a dozen swing states and found that 35% of respondents supported Warren, 19% supported Abrams, and 16% supported Harris.

Warren’s approval among young voters is hardly surprising; during the primaries, she gained significant traction with younger voters, thanks in part to her extensive legislative experience and championing of universal health care and other progressive causes. However, with the recent Black Lives Matter protests sparking cries to diversify leadership ranks, many have been calling for Joe Biden to choose a VP of color, and Elizabeth Warren is white.  She’s also only six years younger than Biden, who at 77 years old has already raised concerns about his physical fitness for the nation’s top job.

Young American Voters Want A Vice President of Color

During a July 20 interview with MSNBC, Biden announced that there are four black women on his VP shortlist, although he did not fully commit to picking a black woman as his running mate. 

Experts speculate that the list probably includes Harris and Abrams, as well as possibly Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, Rep. Val Demings of Florida, and former National Security Advisor Susan Rice, all of whom are Black.

Young voters have expressed mixed feelings about the candidates listed above. A Data for Progress poll found that after Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris was the second most popular VP pick for young voters, gaining support from 21% of young Biden voters overall and 25% from young, non-white Biden voters.

However, some black voters have expressed concern about Harris’ law enforcement record as a former prosecutor.  Other candidates with law enforcement backgrounds, such as Val Dennings, formerly the police chief of Orlando, have raised similar concerns. In an interview with NPR’s Morning Edition, Maurice Mitchell, the national director of the progressive group, the Working Families Party, said, “[Black] representation is important, but it can’t only be about representation.  Like, if you’re a former law enforcement officer, if you’re a former prosecutor, then we need to look at your record.»

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A June 6 Dallas, Texas protest against police brutality. Recent George Floyd protests have sparked concerns that a VP pick not just be a «face of color» but an active advocate of reform. Source: Matthew T. Rader

Others have echoed Mitchell’s concerns that the VP pick not just be a face of color but someone who brings with them a history of pushing criminal justice and other equal opportunity reforms. 

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In an interview with All Things Considered, Steve Phillips, head of advocacy group Democracy in Color, advocated for Abrams because of her proposed criminal justice reforms. «She has been very public that her brother was incarcerated, was in prison,» Phillips said. «So that’s a distinguishing dimension to the race at this point.» Indeed, since young people have led many of the BLM protests, a VP pick with a consistent track record of racial justice reforms could persuade some skeptical young black voters to support Biden in November.

Young Voters Want A Newcomer In The White House

Another issue facing the remaining VP contenders is a lack of name recognition.  According to the Morning Consult/Politico poll cited above, 37% of Democrats under 45 had no opinion or never heard of Kamala Harris. She is a leading contender for VP.  That number jumps to 60% and higher for other candidates, including Stacey Abrams. 

Many of the top VP picks, such as Keisha Lance Bottoms, have only recently come to national prominence in relation to their response to the George Floyd protests. 

While a nomination to the second-in-command position would undoubtedly raise their national profile, a major PR campaign may still be needed to share their background and political qualifications with voters.

An early Morning Consult/Politico poll found that many young voters had little name recognition of prominent potential VP picks.
An early Morning Consult/Politico poll found that many young voters had little name recognition of prominent potential VP picks.

While the VP pick has historically played a fairly minor role in inspiring voter turnout, 2020 is no ordinary election year. In addition to serving as an initial test of presidential judgment, there are many signs that Biden’s running mate pick could have a notable effect on this campaign season.  So can Biden pick a candidate to energize the youth and improve his chances of winning?  I guess we’ll find out next week.


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