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Younger people are less likely to express worry about American democracy

President Biden’s reelection campaign is hoping to frame his expected November rematch against Donald Trump in near-apocalyptic terms: A vote for Trump is a vote for the end of American democracy.

Biden hopes to leverage the same hostility to Trump that powered his victory in 2020 and, so far, polling suggests that much of the incumbent president’s support is, in fact, driven by opposition to Trump. But on this particular point, the idea that American democracy is in a moment of crisis, a crucial component of Biden’s support seems unconvinced.

On Wednesday, Quinnipiac University released its latest national poll, surveying Americans on their views of the likely Trump-Biden rematch.

Biden continues to hold a slim lead, as he did in Quinnipiac’s January poll. Respondents were asked questions evaluating the concerns they might have about Biden and Trump, including each candidate’s age and moral sensibilities. On the former, Trump fared better; on the latter, Biden did.

There was an interesting subtext to the responses, though, that would seem to validate Biden’s approach to November. Quinnipiac found that about 3 in 10 Democrats don’t think Biden is mentally fit for office. A similar percentage of Republicans don’t think Trump is ethical. But among the Democrats who don’t think Biden is mentally fit, 84 percent plan to support him over Trump anyway (when offered a two-person contest). Among Republicans who don’t think Trump is ethical, only 70 percent planned to vote for Trump.

The pollsters also presented respondents with 10 issues, asking them to choose which they viewed as the most important. A plurality selected “preserving democracy in the United States,” largely thanks to that being the choice of nearly a third of Democrats. Nearly as many respondents chose “the economy” and slightly fewer selected “immigration” — the top pick among Republicans.

The partisan divide was widest on immigration, with relatively few Democrats identifying that as the most important issue. Other options that might have been expected to poll higher — abortion, for example, or crime, the Republican hobbyhorse in 2022 — had relatively few respondents selecting them as the top issue.

On each of the top three issues, there were interesting divides by age. For example, retirement-age Americans were nearly three times as likely as adults under the age of 35 to identify immigration as the most important issue. This is readily explained, though, since older Americans are more likely to be Republicans than are younger Americans.

Less easy to explain is the fact that those age 65 and older were also three times as likely to say that preserving democracy was a top issue.

In part, this is because younger Americans are more likely to identify as independents than as Democrats and a plurality of independents selected the economy as the most pressing issue. It may also be because younger Americans tend to pay less attention to the news and may therefore be less cognizant of the ways in which democracy is under threat.

Then there’s the fact that younger Americans have grown up in a completely different political era. People who are 26 sit at the middle of the Quinnipiac poll’s youngest age cohort; they were teenagers when Donald Trump announced his candidacy for president in 2015. How Trump approaches politics — including the things that Biden’s campaign hopes to elevate as threats — is part and parcel of how politics have gone their entire adult lives.

We see divides by age on other issues. Younger Americans, born after the Cold War, are less likely to side with Ukraine against Russia, for example. These results seem as though they might be capturing something similar: An appeal to a political frame familiar to older Americans falls flat with younger ones.

Of course, younger Americans are also less likely to be paying attention to the news. As the November election approaches, they will presumably be more likely to do so. But this result from Quinnipiac suggests that Biden’s efforts to frame Trump as a threat to America’s political tradition might fall flat among those for whom the tradition during their adult lives has been Trump.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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