Democratic Penn students are divided on their support for former Vice President Joe Biden in the general election — and some may choose not to vote at all in November in Biden wins the Democratic nomination.
As older Democratic voters across the nation unite to support the former Penn presidential professor of practice as their preferred nominee, the youth voting bloc has not demonstrated the support his campaign might require for a victory over 1968 Wharton graduate Donald Trump.
Campus political groups like Penn Democrats will be tasked with maximizing Democratic voter turnout in the swing state. And if Biden secures the nomination, Penn Dems will attempt to convince young, progressive voters to support the more moderate candidate whose struggles with college voters are well known.
While Penn Dems officially endorsed Biden in late March, Penn for Bernie said their group has no plans to support Biden’s campaign unless he adopts leftist policies that address issues pertinent to younger voters. The organization referenced Sanders’ universal student loan debt relief and Medicare-for-All programs that poll well with Millennials and Generation Z as important issue positions.
Nationwide, younger voters — especially those part of Gen Z — are shaping up to be the most diverse and progressive in American history. Millenials and Gen Z are projected to make up 37% of the electorate this year, and the turnout of youth voters may have a significant impact on the upcoming election.
Biden's primary rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders's (I-Vt.), sports a base of younger voters that the Barack Obama's vice president is lacking.
Despite Biden's primary struggles with young voters, Penn Dems President and College junior Owen Voutsinas-Klose is optimistic that many young Democrats at Penn will support Biden in the fall — even if he was not originally their first-choice candidate.
"We hope to really emphasize the stakes of this election to any Bernie Sanders supporter we can reach — and we have a ton in our club — but we hope to just emphasize the importance of voting for the Democratic nominee," he said.
Penn for Bernie Co-director and College sophomore Amira Chowdhury said she does not believe Biden will be able to conquer the youth vote until he shows further commitment to the left-wing policies championed by Sanders.
“Biden is fundamentally a candidate that runs on a vision that is blank, because he is so disconnected from the American electorate, including the youth electorate,” she said.
Chowdhury said her friends who are more committed to the Democratic Party’s leftward movement are planning to either vote for a third-party candidate or abstain from voting, if Biden is the nominee.
College sophomore Sarah Shaiman, who identifies as a "staunch" Sanders supporter, said she and many of her friends will vote for a third-party candidate in November if Biden does not adopt more progressive policies.
"It's not worthwhile, in my opinion, to vote for someone just to block someone else from winning the election," she said. "Just because we as members of the Democratic party want to have a Democrat, we shouldn’t lay down our values and principles just so we can say ‘Vote blue no matter who’."
In an effort to appeal to progressives last month, Biden pledged to adopt Sanders' plan to make public colleges and universities free for those from families with incomes below $125,000. Biden also adopted Sen. Elizabeth Warren's (D-Mass.) bankruptcy policies.
Voutsinas-Klose believes that Sanders supporters pledging not to vote if Biden wins the nomination are a "vocal minority."
College sophomore and Penn Dems Political Director Michael Nevett also thinks most young Sanders supporters will vote for Biden if he is up against Trump in November.
"It’s pretty clear that in the choice between Biden and Trump, the clear choice is Biden, and I think almost all students will recognize that and most vote that way," Nevett said. "We will work hard throughout the summer and fall to make sure that people see it that way."
Both Nevett and Voutsinas-Klose stressed that voting Trump out of office is in the best interest of Democrats from all sides of the progressive spectrum.
Voutsinas-Klose warns that four more years of Trump may result in a country "unrecognizable to even the one we have today," and advises Sanders supporters to follow the example of the Vermont Senator himself, as Sanders has pledged to endorse Biden should he receive the nomination.
Voutsinas-Klose said he believes that Biden's administration will be filled with progressives, including Sanders supporters. He said Biden's future cabinet will have the chance to appoint lifetime Democrats to the Supreme Court, and promote tangible action against climate change and the student loan crisis — things he believes will not occur during another Trump term.
"Of course Biden is not going to be as progressive as [Sanders-supporters] want him to be, that’s just not fundamentally what his campaign is about," Voutsinas-Klose said. "But it would still represent a step in the right direction and it would be leagues better than a Donald Trump administration, which would put right-wing extremists in the courts and lose the climate change battle for us permanently. It’s really night and day."
Penn Dems Communications Director and College first-year Emma Wennberg expects that most Penn Dems members will vote for Biden in the general election.
“[Young people] do recognize the need to have a Democrat in the White House to even be able to get a version of the policies people have originally championed,” she said. “Winning young people is so important, especially because young people are by and large the people who are organizing, running volunteering teams, knocking doors, and making phone calls.”
Many members of Penn Dems who previously supported other Democratic candidates are now choosing to coalesce around Biden as the future party nominee. Nevett, who previously supported Warren, said most of his peers, both in and outside Penn Dems, who championed other Democratic candidates will now support Biden.
Nevett also hopes to collaborate with Sanders supporters and other progressive groups on campus work to forge a stronger Democratic movement.
"It's really important to stand up for the issues that Bernie and Biden have in common, which I think are a lot more numerous than a lot of people say," Nevett said, "If you want someone who will nominate judges ,who will protect civil rights and the right to choose, and someone who will stand up for the environment, Biden is the clear choice for that and [he] will restore all of the things Trump has erased."