Joe Biden is now the 46th President of the United States — thanks, in large part, to the support of young people.
Younger voters turned out to the polls in record numbers for the 2020 presidential election, making the difference in key battleground states and leading Biden to a clear victory. According to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), about 55 percent of voting-eligible young people ages 18-29 cast a ballot, compared to about 44 percent in 2016. And overall, the youth vote accounted for about 17 percent of all votes, up from 16 percent in 2016 — and 61 percent of them voted for Biden.
Now, as the new administration settles into office, the same young people who steered the election results are making clear what they expect in return. If President BidenJoe BidenHaiti prime minister warns inequality will cause migration to continue Pelosi: House must pass 3 major pieces of spending legislation this week Erdoğan says Turkey plans to buy another Russian defense system MORE wants to keep the youngest generation of voters in his corner, he’ll need to pay attention: Taking their concerns seriously will be key to this administration’s time in office, to the future of the Democratic Party, and to the United States.
According to a recent survey of more than 1,000 undergraduate students currently enrolled at two- and four-year institutions across the country, students say the Biden administration’s top priorities in its first 100 days should be COVID-19 (86 percent) and the economy/jobs (52 percent). Climate change (35 percent) takes a back seat to the pandemic, though that is likely temporary, as this generation remains among the most vocal and active about the environment.
College students want the new administration to double-down on COVID-19 safety. When it comes to fighting the spread of the virus, nearly 80 percent of college students support a nationwide mask mandate and 65 percent support a nationwide stay-at-home order for one month. College Democrats are far more likely than college Republicans to support a mask mandate (95 percent vs. 35 percent) and a stay-at-home order (87 percent vs. 16 percent).
Forgiving student loan debt is also a priority. About one in four college students fully supports Biden’s plan to forgive $10,000 in student loan debt for all borrowers. Nearly one-quarter support the plan but don’t think it goes far enough. Just 17 percent don’t support the plan at all, and 14 percent say they aren’t sure. There’s more of a consensus when it comes to forgiving all outstanding student debt, with 70 percent of students supporting this move. Students of color, as well as students who receive financial aid, are more likely to support the plan than their peers.
The Green New Deal or similar environment-focused jobs plans enjoys wide support. These efforts have 80 percent support, and banning fracking has 74 percent support. Similarly, 84 percent of students support investing more money in public transportation, such as a regional high-speed rail system, as a way of combating climate change. Nearly 60 percent of Republican students support investing more money in public transportation, along with 93 percent of Democratic students. Banning fracking is much more divisive; just 13 percent of Republicans support it, compared to 96 percent of Democrats.
The Biden administration ignores the concerns of students and other young people at its own peril.
As a candidate, Biden was not a favorite among college students. His lead among voters in this age group was driven, in large part, not by their allegiance to Biden but by their strong aversion to former President Donald TrumpDonald TrumpGraham says he hopes that Trump runs again Trump says Stacey Abrams 'might be better than existing governor' Kemp Executive privilege fight poses hurdles for Trump MORE.
According to a “College Students, Voting and the COVID-19 Election,” a report College Pulse produced in partnership with the Knight Foundation in last August, less than one in five students had a favorable view of Trump. While views about Biden were much more positive, just under half of students indicated they had a favorable impression of him, and just as many said their views were negative. Importantly, more than one in five college students expressed a negative view of both presidential candidates.
The same was true regarding their views of the Democratic Party. More than half of students said they had a favorable opinion of the party, with about as many expressing a negative opinion.
At the same time, students are increasingly engaged politically, with research showing interest in student activism at an all-time high. About 70 percent of college students have had a political disagreement with a friend or family members, and about one-third have worn pieces of clothing with political messaging. One-third of students have contacted an elected official, and 22 percent have donated money to a political cause. One in five students have attended a protest, march or rally.
The voice of college students contributes to America’s path forward. Listening to — and acting upon — their passions and concerns now will ensure that path is a prosperous one for both the administration and the country.
Terren Klein is the CEO and co-founder of College Pulse, a student-focused survey research and analytics firm.