Round Two: Student voters disappointed in 2024 election candidates

The general election is shaping up to be a 2020 rematch, and polling shows voters aren’t happy about it.
Polling booths at the Robert A. Lee Community Recreation Center in Iowa City on Tuesday, Nov. 03, 2020. Few voters came as the evening approached 7:00 PM.
Polling booths at the Robert A. Lee Community Recreation Center in Iowa City on Tuesday, Nov. 03, 2020. Few voters came as the evening approached 7:00 PM.
Matthew Hsieh

This November’s general election is shaping up to look a lot like a 2020 rematch with former President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden picking up presumptive nominations from the Republican and Democratic parties.

Americans remain largely unhappy with the repeated scenario of Biden and Trump running against each other for the job. But with primary challenges to the two failing to gain ground and support, they are the choices voters are left with.

A January Reuters/Ipsos poll found that 67 percent of respondents were “tired of seeing the same candidates,” and a December 2023 Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll found that 56 percent of the poll’s 1,074 respondents were dissatisfied with Biden’s likely nomination;58 percent were dissatisfied with Trump’s likely nomination.

That same poll found that 43 percent of voters viewed Trump “very unfavorably” and 42 percent viewed Biden the same.

Many voters feel stuck.

“It’s like you either cook a baby in the microwave, or you cook it in the oven. Either way, the baby’s gonna get cooked, so I don’t really like it,” Nichole Johnson, a University of Iowa second-year student and a self-declared independent, said of the rematch.

The polls hint at a deep dissatisfaction many Americans have with the two candidates. With Biden being an incumbent and Trump, a former president, dominating the GOP primary, many voters are unhappy no other choices exist.

“Many are put off by the idea of two old white men at the top of the ticket,” Barbara Trish, a professor of political science at Grinnell College, wrote in an email to The Daily Iowan. “Some — on both sides — imagine their party could come up with a candidate with a better prospect for winning. Others are probably just tired of Trump and Biden.”

In a February New York Times/Siena College poll, Trump leads Biden in the general election with 48 percent of respondents to the poll choosing him over Biden if the election were today. But, a Reuters/Ipsos poll published on March 15, found that Biden led Trump 39 percent to 38 percent, respectively, among the poll’s 3,356 respondents.

Among Iowans polled in a recent Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll, 48 percent of 640 poll respondents said they would choose Trump if the general election were today, while only 33 percent would choose Biden. Fifteen percent would choose someone else.

Polling hints at the challenges facing Biden as he navigates criticism of his age, threatening his support among Democratic voters as he looks to secure a second term.

While most Republicans hold steadfast in their support for Trump, he faced serious primary challenges from other party leaders who were ready to move on from Trump, including Nikki Haley who dropped out on March 6. Further, his legal troubles continue to loom over his campaign which challenge his hold over the party.

Biden’s age worries voters, but not Trump’s

As the oldest sitting president at 81 years old, Biden has been criticized for his age after a series of public gaffes.

A recent report by special counsel Robert Hur, a Republican appointed by Attorney General Merrick Garland to investigate Biden’s possession of classified documents after his tenure as vice president under Obama, called into question Biden’s mental competency.

This has led to concerns about Biden’s age among Republicans and young voters, who worry that he is too old to do the job effectively. The New York Times/Siena College poll said that 45 percent of those polled agreed that “Joe Biden’s age is such a problem that he is not capable of handling the job of president.”

The same New York Times/Siena College poll showed 47 percent of respondents said Biden is too old to be an effective president, while only 21 percent feel the same about Trump. A February ABC News/Ipsos poll found that 59 percent of the poll’s 528 respondents thought Trump and Biden were too old to lead effectively.

In a recent Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll, 56 percent of Iowans polled said Biden was too old to serve another term, while only 22 percent said the same about Trump.

Arianna Amin, a UI third-year student and vice president of University Democrats at Iowa, said many members of the political student organization have concerns about Biden’s age and his handling of the Israel-Hamas war.

The University Democrats at Iowa received backlash from the state party after calling for a ceasefire after using a saying that some state party officials viewed as calling for the genocide of Israelis.

“We have some concerns as we feel as though we’re not really prioritized in Biden’s campaign,” Amin said. “It’s not that we don’t support him — because obviously the alternative is far worse — but we certainly have reservations about him being in office for another four years.”

In the New York Times/Siena College poll, voters in all age groups found that Biden was too old to serve another term, with 53 percent of 45-to-64-year-olds saying they strongly agree that Biden is too old, while 40 percent of 18-to-29-year-olds thought the same. However, 18-to-29-year-olds led those who “somewhat agree” that Biden is too old at 41 percent of respondents.

“There’s no doubt both of these candidates are pretty old,” UI political science Professor Sara Mitchell said. “I think for some voters finding younger candidates would be more attractive.”

Among the biggest critics of Biden’s age are non-Democrats, with 64 percent of Republicans and 53 percent of independents saying Biden is too old to serve at 81 years old.

“With age I do believe there is wisdom and I believe that we should have somebody in this country who does have wisdom and has background with what they are doing,” Kate Sopcich, an independent and first-year student at the UI, said. “But at the same time, I think there’s a lot of problems with really old people leading this country.”

Young Republican voters also say that Trump is too old to serve, with 37 percent of 18-to-29-year-olds saying they “somewhat agree” that Trump is too old.

During Biden’s State of the Union on March 7, he confronted concerns about his age head-on, shifting the message to Trump’s conservative policies that are “among the oldest of ideas.”

“My fellow Americans, the issue facing our nation isn’t how old we are. It’s how old our ideas are,” Biden said during his State of the Union address before Congress. “Hate, anger, revenge, retribution are among the oldest of ideas. But you can’t lead America with ancient ideas that only take us back.”

Trump, who is only four years younger than Biden at 77 years old, has skirted attacking Biden directly on his age, instead claiming he is mentally unfit due to other factors.

Trump has not faced the same criticism about his age with only 19 percent of voters claiming he is unfit to be president due to his age in the New York Times/Siena College poll.

UI political science professor Timothy Hagle said engaging with younger voters and their ideas matters more than a candidate’s age.

“It’s not so much the age, it’s more the person and whether that person is appealing to issues that younger folks are interested in more than anything else,” Hagle said. “And so in that sense … a lot of younger voters are not as enthusiastic for Biden.”

Trump’s support among Republicans stays strong, but legal woes loom

While Biden faces a large portion of Democrats who aren’t ecstatic about his presumptive nomination, Trump has vast support among Republicans with 48 percent of Republican primary voters “enthusiastic” about his presumptive nomination and 32 percent satisfied in the New York Times/Siena College poll.

Trump also faced serious primary challenges with Nikki Haley picking up hundreds of delegates and winning two states before dropping out after Super Tuesday.

Despite his stark contrast with Biden’s approval ratings, Trump still faces criticism over his legal woes. The February New York Times/Siena College poll found that 53 percent of the poll’s 980 respondents believed Trump committed serious crimes. Only 21 percent of Republicans agree with that sentiment.

“Obviously, it’s concerning, but at the same time, he hasn’t been convicted yet,” Tim Pollack, a third-year UI student and a Republican, said.

Among independent voters, who are key in swing state battles, 57 percent thought Trump had committed serious crimes.

“I don’t think he should be able to run,” John Stinson, a UI third-year student and independent, said about Trump’s crimes. “If you’re not following the law, I don’t think you should be at the forefront of our nation.”

However, among Republicans, Trump is very popular because of his policies that 40 percent of Americans polled in the New York Times/Siena College poll say have helped them personally, compared to 18 percent who say the same about Biden.

Jasmyn Jordan, a UI third-year student and president of the UI chapter of the Young Americans for Freedom, a conservative campus political organization, said she would support Trump because of his policies. While Jordan is the president of the conservative group, she was speaking on her behalf, not as a representative of the group’s beliefs.

“I am ecstatic to vote for President Donald J. Trump,” Jordan wrote in an email to the DI. “His presidency promises to tackle critical issues like the soaring cost of everyday living, which is a significant concern for me and many others.”

Jordan said she is excited to see Trump run again and the possibility for him to deliver on his promises.

“Having observed the stark distinctions between the Trump and Biden administrations, I eagerly anticipate the possibility of another Trump presidency,” Jordan wrote in an email to the DI. “I believe such a return to office holds the promise of steering our nation back onto a path characterized by greater truth and freedom.”

While popular among those in their party, for the most part, Biden and Trump are both viewed unfavorably by independents with 42 percent of independents viewing Biden very unfavorably and 43 percent viewing Trump the same.

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