By Jeff Zeleny, CNN
Atlanta (CNN) — As Kerry Singleton looks ahead to the next presidential election, he’s thinking back to the excitement he felt when President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris visited the historic grounds of Clark Atlanta University and Morehouse College.
“I remember the energy that was here on campus that day,” said Singleton, a Morehouse senior, who stood in the crowd and applauded the speech on voting rights, democracy and more.
On that crisp winter day in January 2022, the president was closing in on his first year in office and Singleton and others in the audience had high hopes.
Since then, voting rights legislation has stalled in Congress. The Supreme Court rejected a student loan forgiveness plan. And high prices – from food to housing – are fueling economic anxieties that Singleton said have come together to dampen his enthusiasm for the possibilities of what the Biden administration could achieve.
“We’re not expecting them to make change overnight,” Singleton said in an interview this week. “But I do think that everyone is willing to hold the administration accountable for some of those promises that were made. If they don’t happen, I think it’s going to be a scary election.”
For all of the warning signs facing the president a year before the election, apathy and skepticism from young voters is high on the list. A spokesman for the Biden campaign called the election “deeply consequential for young people,” and pledged to build on a strong turnout from younger voters in the 2022 midterm elections.
Yet a respectful resistance toward the president comes alive in one conversation after another, with the deepest concerns touching on his age – he turns 81 next week – the economy and the Israel-Hamas war.
“If they can fund a war, they can find the money to pay off our student loans,” said Rachael Carroll, who cast her first vote for president for Biden. “The cost of living is way too high right now. I don’t think the economy really caters to young people.”
Carroll said she doesn’t regret her vote for Biden or Harris, particularly given the alternative of Donald Trump, but finds herself disappointed by some White House priorities.
“They made a lot of promises going into office and a lot of those have not been met,” said Carroll, who graduated last year and works for a nonprofit advocacy group. She said she intends to vote for Biden again, but worries about a lack of enthusiasm she sees among people her age.
“It is for Biden, however, it’s against Trump in the same breath,” Carroll said. “A lot of times we’re voting, unfortunately, for the lesser of two evils.”
Kevin Munoz, a spokesman for the Biden campaign, said the election would offer a stark choice and a clear contrast next November.
“We are working hard to highlight how an extreme MAGA agenda would devastate the financial security, safety, and freedom of young people,” Munoz told CNN, adding: “As Democrats did in 2020 and 2022, we will meet younger Americans where they are and earn their votes.”
Indeed, young voters were a critical component of the president’s victory – particularly here in Georgia, where Biden defeated Trump by only 11,779 votes out of nearly 5 million cast.
Exit polls in 2020 showed that voters 18 to 29 made up 20% of the Georgia electorate – the only state of the top six battlegrounds where the percentage of young voters exceeded the national share of 17%.
Then, Biden won young Georgia voters by 13 points, according to exit polls. But now, a year before the election, surveys show a far closer race, with voters under the age of 30 here split 46% for Trump and 44% for Biden, according to a New York Times/Siena College poll.
“You’ve got to vote for something,” said Georgia state Sen. Nabilah Islam Parkes, a Democrat, who organized voters in 2020 to help build Biden’s winning coalition.
“The first time around, we fired Donald Trump. This time around, if voters want to rehire Joe Biden, they want to see policies, they want to feel like the issues they’re concerned about are being heard.”
Islam Parkes, a Muslim American who last fall became the youngest woman elected to the Georgia Senate, said rebuilding that Democratic coalition has become more complicated given the anger many younger voters have expressed over the administration’s financial support for Israel in the aftermath of the October 7 massacre of Israeli civilians by Hamas terrorists.
“They don’t want to feel complicit in the funding of an ongoing war,” Islam Parkes said. “I think that young voters recognize you can’t bomb your way to peace and security.”
Aylon Gipson, a senior at Morehouse College, also recalled the excitement of seeing Biden and Harris visit campus last year. He said he intended to support Biden, but without the enthusiasm of four years ago.
“We’re going into an election cycle where we have to pick between two different people who are very, very old in age,” Gipson said. “I think that there should be other candidates that should have emerged from a Democratic primary to actually challenge Biden.”
Paul Sprowl, a classmate, said he “would like to see Biden pass the baton.” He said too many American politicians are reluctant to retire, which feeds mistrust in the system.
“My generation tries not to play into ageism, but there are some really valid concerns,” Sprowl said of Biden, who will be 82 if he wins reelection next year. (Trump would be 78 next year.) “It’s like why would you even want to work when you reach a certain age? I would be enjoying the final years of my life in peace. I think that brings a lot of mistrust.”
Christopher Lambry, a Morehouse freshman, said he was concerned at the softening of support for Biden among many younger Black voters, particularly men. He feared a disinformation campaign was at work that may have undermined Biden’s standing, but he also believed voters were eager for inspiration.
“A lot of the lack of response from younger generations,” Lambry said, “comes because we want to see that there is still hope in the glimpse of darkness.”
Some of the biggest accomplishments of the Biden administration – from infrastructure funding to the lowering of prescription drug prices – don’t resonate as loudly in interviews with younger voters. Child care, affordable housing and abortion rights were expressed as far bigger priorities.
With Biden at the top of the ticket, potentially facing a rematch of the 2020 race, young voters say the burden rests on him to deliver on his promises and stir excitement about his candidacy – not take their support for granted.
“Just as we hold Trump accountable,” said Singleton, the Morehouse senior who saw Biden early last year, “we have to hold Biden accountable.”
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