Members of the Georgia Tech Women’s basketball team hold polling signs outside the McCamish Pavilion, which will serve as a polling station on Election Day in Atlanta, Georgia on Tuesday, November 3, 2020.
Tom Williams | CQ Appeal, Inc. | Getty Images
President-elect Joe Biden was not Sam Weinberg’s first or even second choice for the White House. Like many young progressives, the 19-year-old Illinois native had supported Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren during the Democratic primary.
But in April, when Biden was the last man in Democratic Elementary School, Weinberg decided to support the centrist candidate.
Fearing that his colleagues might not follow suit, he created “Settle for Biden”, an Instagram account that convinced young people to be satisfied with Biden.
Using catchphrases like “Because a C + is better than an F” the campaign focused on mobilizing young people to elect President Donald Trump from office. With more than 290,000 followers and millions of likes, comments, and shares in the account, Settle for Biden has become an advocacy group and its name has proven to be an effective rally for young voters.
Other progressive groups have also organized young people for political action, including the climate-focused Sunrise movement, the anti-gun violence group March for Our Lives, the immigrant advocacy group United We Dream, and other movements.
Your efforts may have affected Biden’s victory. The turnout of eligible Americans aged 18 to 29 increased significantly from 2016 to 2020, and a majority of them supported Biden, according to a preliminary analysis by Tufts University.
Now youth organizers are pushing the Democratic Party onto a more progressive platform.
“Progressive voters are the future of this country, progressive politics is the future of politics, and we will continue to fight to ensure that Biden’s administration is as progressive as possible,” Weinberg said.
Influence of young voters on the elections
Voters aged 18 to 29, especially young blacks, were more supportive of Biden than any other age group, polls by NBC News show. According to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) at Tufts University, between 73% and 87% of Latin American, Asian, and black teens supported Biden, compared with 51% of white teens.
In key swing states like Arizona, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, where NBC News forecast a Biden win, preliminary data shows that helping young people helped get Biden above the profit margin. Biden made profits in Michigan and Pennsylvania counties with large student populations.
Young black voters played a pivotal role in flipping Georgia, a traditionally Republican stronghold where Biden currently has a narrow lead. Voters aged 18-29 represented 21% of the state’s share of the electorate – 5% more than the national youth share. About 90% of young black voters supported Biden, compared with 34% of white youth and 57% of all youth voters in Georgia.
“We won this election for Joe Biden,” said Nikayla Jefferson, a 24-year-old organizer of the Sunrise Movement. “We won’t let go of this. He definitely owes us his administration.”
The Biden campaign did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.
A divided party
In April, a coalition of progressive youth groups including the Sunrise Movement, the March for Our Lives Action Fund, United We Dream Action and Justice Democrats wrote a letter to Biden urging him to deserve support from young people. The coalition called on Biden to support measures such as Medicare for All, the cancellation of student debts, a property tax and the Green New Deal commitment to clean energy.
“You must stand up for the bold ideas that have motivated our generation and given us hope in the political process,” the letter said.
On Wednesday, the Sunrise Movement and Justice Democrats released a list of recommendations for Biden’s cabinet, including Warren as Treasury Secretary and Sanders as Labor Secretary.
The move comes when tensions between the moderate and liberal factions of the Democratic Party increase. With the majority in the Democratic House expected to shrink after the 2020 election, the centrist Democrats have blamed progressive politics for the cost of party seats, including Medicare for All and the Green New Deal.
Meanwhile, progressive Democrats have criticized moderate Democrats for caring more about center-right voters than those who consistently vote blue. Prominent figures like MPs Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib are calling on the party to “embrace the grassroots”.
“It’s important not to ignore who supports you the most,” said Mary-Pat Hector, a 22-year-old youth campaigner in Atlanta. “Young people are now officially a big part of their base, so it’s important to talk to them.”
Hector points to black female leaders who have been gathering youth voters in Georgia for years, including Tamieka Atkins, Helen Butler, Nse Ufot, Deborah Scott, and 2018 Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams.
“We really need to think about how we can talk to young people, not just in the two to three months leading up to an election like we’re taking a test,” said Abby Kiesa, deputy director of CIRCLE.
“If we don’t have politicians there who seem to care about young people, we won’t want to get involved,” said 20-year-old Emily Zanieski, co-director of Students for Ossoff, a youth initiative to elect the candidate for the Democratic Senate of Georgia, Jon Ossoff.
“We are the future of the party”
For many young people, Biden’s promise of a return to “normalcy” is not enough.
“We have long felt this sense of uncertainty about the future, and it has to do with issues like health care, affordability of education, and climate change,” said Royce Mann, 19, legislative director of March for Our Lives’ Georgia chapter.
“The party needs to start listening to its progressive wing and understanding that a progressive platform matches people I don’t think a centrist could ever reach,” said Isabella Guinigundo, an 18-year-old organizer with Ohio Progressive Asian Women’s Leadership . “Progressive guidelines are good guidelines for anyone interested in high-paying jobs and a future for all of us.”
The Democratic Party’s first test? Biden’s Cabinet Representative.
In addition to the Sunrise Movement and Justice Democrats, Settle for Biden has also published a list of recommendations for top positions in government. With the Senate’s fate still unknown, youth organizers are calling on Biden to use his executive powers in key areas such as the Covid-19 pandemic, climate change and the economy.
“The work starts now. We need to hold these people accountable to support the policies we want to see in the future,” said Marcia Lacopo, 21, a North Carolina-based organizer with progressive youth election initiative NextGen America.
After promoting Biden to the White House, young progressives expect the president-elect to fulfill the mandate they gave him.
“We are the future of the party,” said Jefferson of Sunrise Movement. “We made it very clear that the party is changing and either they will come with us or we will kick them out of office.”