Biden struggles to hit it off with millennials

Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden bemoans white supremacy in remarks at civil rights movement site Gun control: Campaigning vs. legislating Sunday shows - Guns dominate after Democratic debate MORE has a millennial problem.

The former vice president is holding onto his perch atop the polls, but strategists and political observers say he needs to do better with younger voters if he wants to win the Democratic nomination next year.

A Pew Research Center poll out this past week shows that while Biden is doing well with voters age 50 and up, he is struggling to win over adults under the age of 30.

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The survey showed that 7 percent of young voters support him. In that same demographic, 24 percent of voters backed Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersGun control: Campaigning vs. legislating Booker defends middle-ground health care approach: 'We're going to fight to get there' Sunday shows preview: Democratic candidates make the rounds after debate MORE (I-Vt.) and 18 percent supported Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenGun control: Campaigning vs. legislating Booker defends middle-ground health care approach: 'We're going to fight to get there' Democrats spar over electoral appeal of 'Medicare for All' MORE (D-Mass.).

Biden’s weak spot is in stark contrast to former President Obama’s popularity with young voters, many of whom gravitated toward his “hope and change” mantra. 

"If he wants to reactivate the Obama coalition that helped Obama win two elections, he won't be able to do it without younger voters," one Democratic strategist said. "There's just no way around that.”

“And he’s got to do something to draw these voters in,” the strategist added. “He has to figure out a way to meet them where they are.”

Democratic strategist Adam Parkhomenko went a step further.

“He has a serious issue on his hands,” Parkhomenko said. “The majority of his support comes from people who know him, know his name and are being asked who they support in the early months of his campaign.”

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Still, Biden has polled well with black millennial voters, at least shortly after he launched his campaign in April.

A Morning Consult survey released in May found that Biden had a lead over Sanders among black voters age 18-29. But the survey highlighted a marked difference between young white voters and black voters: Sanders still bested Biden with that demographic, 35 percent to 22 percent. 

Part of the problem, strategists say, is that many white millennials are mostly looking for candidates who will change the system. Strategists point to the 2016 presidential campaign, when candidates largely chose Sanders over former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonDershowitz: 'Too many politicians are being subject to criminal prosecution' The 13 Republicans needed to pass gun-control legislation Democrats spar over electoral appeal of 'Medicare for All' MORE for that very reason. They were drawn to Sanders’s policy proposals, including free college, even as Clinton tried to portray those plans as unrealistic. 

Biden could run into a similar problem, strategists say.

Parkhomenko, who served as an aide on Clinton’s 2008 and 2016 campaigns, chalked it up to Biden’s policy positions.

While Democrats like Biden and respect him, Parkhomenko said, “his policies are why there’s a lack of enthusiasm among millennials.”

“Many of them are not just reflective of where we are,” he added. “Many of them are not reflective of a Democrat running in 2019 under Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpHarris bashes Kavanaugh's 'sham' nomination process, calls for his impeachment after sexual misconduct allegation Celebrating 'Hispanic Heritage Month' in the Age of Trump Let's not play Charlie Brown to Iran's Lucy MORE.”

At an event in Las Vegas last month, Biden was asked how he can attract younger Democratic voters who are looking for “radical, revolutionary change.” 

But he scoffed at the idea.

They’re looking for somebody who, in fact, can articulate what they believe and who is in the mainstream,” Biden said, according to the Nevada Independent. “They’re not all — and this is not a hit on Bernie, my word — but this is not a generation of socialists.” 

Ben LaBolt, a longtime spokesman during the Obama White House and the president’s national campaign spokesman during his successful 2012 reelection bid, said Biden should appear in nontraditional, nonpolitical media outlets to get his message out to millennials — something Obama did time and again on the campaign trail and during his time in the White House.

Biden should also “roll out an inspiring agenda” on issues millennials care about, LaBolt said, from a climate change proposal to “a humanitarian approach to the immigration crisis, a plan not just to alleviate student debt but provide a world class education that helps them succeed in the 21st century economy.”

LaBolt added that Biden should “show that his vision is not about a return to normalcy but a plan to secure the future.” 

Above all, Biden has to be authentic, strategists say.

“Millennials are going to be attracted to who they're going to be attracted to,” said Democratic strategist Michael Trujillo. “When it comes to millennials and young voters, you have to be true to yourself and let the chips fall where they may.”