'Lost in the sauce': All eyes turn to New Hampshire, where young voters are frustrated
Young Americans really don't want a Biden Trump rematch. Could enough young moderates in New Hampshire tilt tonight's outcome in Nikki Haley's favor?
I tend to cover the most vocal young voters – either those who are super progressive, or the ones who love former President Donald Trump. They’re outspoken, are often the ones at protests and rallies, and they spark conversation.
But recent data, and my own anecdotal experience, shows that a large swath of young Americans actually lie somewhere on the middle of the political spectrum. According to the Harvard Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics’ latest youth poll, 38% of young Americans consider themselves independent or unaffiliated with either major party.
Though New Hampshire has a closed primary (meaning registered Democrats and Republicans must vote in their party’s race), independent (or as New Hampshire calls it, undeclared) voters (who account for ~ 40% of the state’s electorate) can cast a ballot in whichever primary they so choose – so there’s a big focus on independents in the Granite State today — especially those who may give former South Carolina Gov. and UN Ambassador Nikki Haley the boost she needs to outperform Trump. Beyond the primary, given the number of college campuses in the state, the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts ranks New Hampshire as one of the top ten states where young voters could have the biggest impact in the 2024 presidential election.
In turn, I spoke with a group of young moderates (though two were registered Democrats at the time) in Hanover, New Hampshire last week. The conversation highlighted stark realities about where young voters (specifically those who fall somewhere in the middle) are feeling ahead of today’s primary.
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First and foremost, I want to share the story of Najma Zahira, a 22-year-old senior at Dartmouth College from rural central Florida. When we spoke, Zahira, who lives and goes to school in New Hampshire, was still a registered Democrat in Florida — but she was weighing switching her registration (New Hampshire has in person Election Day voter registration, which can be critical for young voters) to an undeclared New Hampshire voter in order to cast a ballot for Haley in the New Hampshire primary.
Asked why, at the time, Zahira said: “It's just because I really don't like Trump. I’m like Haley neutral, maybe, but I think compared to Trump, she’s the best option.”
Well, I just checked in with Zahira via text, and she did in fact switch her registration and voted for Haley in the primary.
Here’s what she had to say 📲: “If Nikki Haley has any shot of getting the nomination, she has to either win NH or do extremely well and I decided that my vote towards that was more important than my vote in Florida.”
Whether or not there are enough voters like Zahira to tilt the outcome in Haley’s favor is to be determined. But her outlook mirrored that of other young voters in our small group conversation who are sick of the status quo, craving generational change, and really, more than anything, hate Trump — even if they are conservative.
Here are some of the high level takeaways from our discussion:
➡️ On party affiliation, the young (mostly moderates) feel out of place in both parties. They also really don’t want a Biden Trump rematch in 2024.
Will Bryant, 21 and a senior from Massachusetts, has always been an independent voter. “I used to sort of strongly identify with the left. Not so much the Democratic Party, but sort of leftist ideas. I've since moved from where I was, much further to the right. I would not say I am a Republican by any stretch of the imagination but I have an appreciation for some conservative [views],” he said. Asked what contributed to his change of heart, Bryant pointed to his roommate, who was in the group, Isaiah Menning, 21 and the president of Dartmouth’s chapter of the youth-led American Conservation Coalition, a center right climate group. Bryant is the group’s vice president.
A brand new poll from The Dartmouth released today shows that 48% of respondents “associate with the Democratic party,” 15% of respondents “associate with the Republican party,” while 34% “don’t associate with either party.”
Bryant read Marx in high school and was a big fan of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. But he said: “The shift in the Democratic Party away from those kinds of those kinds of debates has made me just way less interested in what they're doing.” He pointed to the 2016 election as when he started to really shift away from the Democratic Party.
“Bernie Sanders was the last like popular Democratic politician who I would have been psyched to vote for,” Bryant said.
Zahira agreed with Bryant’s assessment — though perhaps for different reasons.
“I identify less and less with the Democratic Party,” Zahira said, adding, “They've gotten lost in the sauce post Trump.”
While she appreciates many of the Democrats’ social policies, she disagrees with the way the party is responding to Republicans’ “culture war thing.”
“I think other stuff is getting lost in the wayside,” she said. “There's not enough like grounding and practicality… of the Democratic Party.”
There was one Democratic voter, Evan Gerson, 19 and also from Florida — who said that given Florida Republicans’ recent attacks on education, LGBTQ rights, and anti-woke campaign, “it feels like our state’s under attack.”
➡️ On candidates
Menning said Haley is appealing to some young conservatives for her stances on climate and national debt (both of which could and will have a big impact on Gen Z in particular).
“She seems to be good I think about some major issues that will affect Gen Z. At least in my own analysis of things, she was the only candidate in the first debate to say that climate change is real. That's like a huge credibility boost at least in my eyes, and I think and lots of the core ACC members’ eyes. Additionally, you look at other issues, she's the one who I think credibly spoke about debt, about the programs that are costing the country tons of money, about reforming the programs so they don’t cost quite as much, which will be a huge burden on us,” Menning said.
Bryant agreed about Haley’s position on climate and debt, but she he is, “very skeptical of her foreign policy.” He added that he is “not a fan of” many of Republicans’ “culturally conservative politics.”
➡️ On the possibility of a Biden Trump rematch
Menning said when it comes to the possibility of a Biden Trump rematch, both the president and former president have “moral failings.”
Menning voted in today’s New Hampshire primary but did not share who he voted for. If it’s a rematch between the two in November, Menning would “plan on writing in,” but he’s not sure who’s name he would list.
“I would vote for Biden, but like so bregrudgingly,” Bryant said. “Like less excited than I was for him in 2020. Seeing him as a president, this is a little mean, but I think his age is really a factor.”
“I would vote for Biden, but I would be so upset about it,” Zahira said. “A third party vote would be so nice, but I don't believe that given how the system works, I don't think it’s viable.”
Asked why she feels this way, Zahira cited Biden’s age. Asked what she’s looking for, she said, “a more charismatic leader.” Zahira said California Gov. Gavin Newsom would be more of an ideal candidate.
Gerson defended Biden, saying people are “very hard on [him].” He cited the CHIPS & Science Act and the Inflation Reduction Act, adding that the president has been very focused on climate change, though he said “messaging is huge” and thinks the Democratic party could do a better job touting the president’s accomplishments to young people in a way that resonates.
➡️ On issues
Beyond climate, debt, and foreign policy, the Dartmouth students stressed “civic health” as a top priority.
“For me, the most number one thing is getting rid of Trump,” Bryant said. “And voting for civic health in general.”
“That whole way of doing politics is super harmful, more than any particular policy position, and I come from a place of faith with that. I think Trump is a horrible witness for the American church,” he said.
Beyond “civic health,” Gerson said the country needs bipartisanship around issues like “age limits” for political candidates and “no congressional insider trading.”
Who’s voices are resonating? Or, where are they getting their news and entertainment?
Lastly, I asked the students where they go for news and entertainment. This was a hyper-tuned-in group, who regularly reads the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and listens to NPR. They also mentioned opinion writers like the Times’ David French and Coleman Hughes.
But, that said, they love YouTube and some identified some key voices such as Cody Ko (who has over 6 million followers on YouTube), Philip DeFranco (who has over 6.5 million followers on YouTube), and Scott Cramer (who has over 800 thousand followers on YouTube).
More on young voters and the GOP
First, from me, for POLITICO Magazine: Gen Z Republicans to the GOP: Hello???
A dispatch from Run GenZ’s Iowa conference, where nearly 100 young conservatives packed a downtown hotel to profess their love for the Republican Party. Many of them weren’t sure the party loved them back. From the Republican National Committee and GOP candidates’ aversion to TikTok (aside from tech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, who’s no longer in the race) to an inability to experiment with new techniques for outreach, the problem in reaching young voters isn’t the party’s message, but its delivery, many said.
Opinion: ‘I’m a teen, and here’s why I’m with Nikki Haley,’ Ariel Schuyler Ehrlich for The Boston Globe, 1/22
“Over the weekend, I traveled from New York, where I am a senior in high school, to New Hampshire to see Haley ahead of Tuesday’s first-in-the-nation primary. I am on the cusp of becoming a voter and will be excited if I can cast my first presidential ballot for Haley. Polls say that’s a long shot. But for now, I’m with her,” Ehrlich writes.
The kids are meh: Apathy among younger voters in New Hampshire fits a national trend, Samantha J. Gross and Amanda Gokee for The Boston Globe, 1/12
“The apathy toward the front-runners isn’t going unnoticed... Groups that typically pour resources into turning out young voters are taking a step back, recognizing the low energy this cycle,” Gross and Gokee write.
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Writer’s note: An earlier version of this post misspelled Evan Gerson’s name. This piece has been updated with Bryant’s ACC title.