Feb 22, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Old men lace up: Biden, Trump try to keep up with Gen Z and millennials

Illustration of the letter Z formed from deconstructed elements of the American flag.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The past few days in the race for president, in a nutshell: Two old guys try new things to try to attract voters at least a half-century younger.

Why it matters: President Biden, 81, and former President Trump, 77, are stepping up their courtship of disillusioned and disinterested Gen Z and millennial voters, tapping into social media, sneaker fashion and other cultural touchstones to try to reach the coveted 18-34 age group.

  • Young voters made up about 17% of the electorate in 2020 — and were especially key for Biden, supporting the Democrat by wide margins.
  • But this year, many are unenthused by the likely Biden-Trump rematch — and polls suggest the Israel-Hamas war has helped Trump slice into Biden's margin among voters 18-34.

Driving the news: During the past two weeks, Biden joined TikTok, made an appearance on "Meet Cutes NYC" to share his love story with Jill Biden, and did a stitch responding to talk show host Jimmy Fallon's roast about his age.

  • In his familiar "Stick Up for the Little Guy" mode, Biden recorded a video ahead of Super Bowl Sunday in which he complained about snacks coming in smaller sizes — highlighting a phenomenon called "shrinkflation" and calling on food companies to not play Americans for "suckers."
  • On Wednesday the White House also announced plans to forgive another $1.2 billion in student loans. The 153,000 people affected by the move will receive letters from Biden this week — reminders of who made it possible.
  • Biden's campaign has hired a director of youth engagement and director of celebrity engagement, it says it will hire a deputy for the latter.

The White House has been holding briefings with TikTok influencers around big news moments such as the war in Ukraine — giving them access to the president to create their own content, and showcasing steps Biden has taken on issues such as climate change, gun control and abortion rights.

The other side: Trump last week launched a new shoe line at SneakerCon in Philadelphia, where he met with influencers such as Benjamin Kickz and luxury watch dealer Roman Sharf, who paid a winning bid of $9,000 for autographed "Never Surrender" high tops.

  • Trump's been courting young men at sporting events such as UFC fights and young Black men through nods from rappers such as 50 Cent and Snoop Dogg, who've changed their tune on Trump since the 2020 election.
  • Trump has also made appearances on the Nelk Boys' "Full Send" podcast, which has a massive following among young men.
  • Trump's team sees an opportunity to score with young Black voters in particular, who were key to Biden's win in 2020 but whose support could be softer this time, some polls suggest.
  • Trump allies also claim they've noticed less reluctance among celebrities to publicly support Trump in this election.

The big picture: Trump has always been interested in pop culture and sports, and likes to talk by phone with celebrities and entertain them at Mar-a-Lago and his Bedminster, N.J., golf club.

  • Compared to Trump and former president Barack Obama, Biden doesn't personally engage with celebrity culture as much, putting more onus on his digital team.
  • Biden often relies on his granddaughters to learn what young people are interested in, Axios' Alex Thompson has reported.
  • Since 2019, Biden's staff has pushed him to put more time into digital messaging. In 2021, Biden agreed to do 15 minutes a week, Alex reported.

What they're saying: "While President Biden has worked to address the issues young voters care about, Donald Trump would make their lives worse in every aspect," a Biden campaign official told Axios.

  • "The campaign will continue meeting voters where they are, innovating to create content that will resonate with critical audiences."
  • "When you see President Trump go into these sporting events, or the people who he's having dinner with — those are his friends," Trump senior adviser Jason Miller said.
  • "So whether or not he is a former/future president or just Donald J. Trump the businessman, these are the folks that he would be hanging out with."

The intrigue: Trump and Biden aren't always totally welcome in their efforts to reach young voters.

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