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Examining The Youth Vote In Joe Biden's Broad Coalition Of Voters


Joe Biden proved this week that he has support from a broad coalition. He had a string of commanding victories Tuesday. He won black voters, suburban voters, white voters and older voters - nearly every demographic but young people. He does, though, have some young supporters, and NPR's Asma Khalid has been talking with them.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: When you ask these young voters why they are backing Joe Biden when so many of their friends are opting for Bernie Sanders, one of the most consistent explanations is electability. I met Hannah Dobie (ph) at a Biden rally in Virginia.

HANNAH DOBIE: I am really focused on who can beat Trump. So in that sense, I am interested in voting for Biden.

KHALID: But then, the 26-year-old glanced around and pointed out a glaring fact.

DOBIE: Even though we're the youngest people here by far, which is - that was a little disappointing to me.

KHALID: A number of young Biden voters told me their first choice was another candidate, like Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders, but ultimately, they went for Biden.

METHU PAL: I do like Bernie's ideas, but I think a lot of them are unrealistic. So if he was put against Trump, I don't think he would win.

KHALID: Methu Pal (ph) voted for Biden on Super Tuesday, though if she were purely voting with her heart, the 18-year-old UCLA student says she would have chosen Sanders. Exit polls indicate Sanders won 18-to-29-year-olds in every state but Mississippi. Biden did better there, in part because many young Democrats in the South are black, and Biden has stronger support with black voters, like Justin Oyamdebelo (ph), a pharmacy student in Houston.

JUSTIN OYAMDEBELO: Well, he was Obama's vice president, and that's got to account for something. You know, to stand by the first black president, that was pretty big. He stood by Obama all those years.

KHALID: Oyamdebelo is 33, an older millennial, and many of them fondly remember the Obama presidency. There is also a subset of young voters I've come across who are intrigued by Biden because of who he is, his policies, his experience and his appeal to decency, people like Caleb Keaveney (ph), a college student in North Carolina. We spoke as a marching band amped up the crowd before Biden took the stage.

CALEB KEAVENEY: I think he can bring people together in a way that right now we're kind of in a polarized, divided society. And I think Joe Biden is concerned with that.

KHALID: Some young Biden backers are liberal; some grew up in Republican homes; one referred to people crossing the border as illegals. But nonetheless, they are disgusted by Trump, and they like what Biden represents. I met Colin Keoghan (ph) as he waited in line at a Biden rally in South Carolina, and I asked him if he was considering Sanders like many others in his generation.

COLIN KEOGHAN: No, he's too radical for me. And I also think he's too radical for the country. I feel like a Bernie Sanders ticket is a guaranteed reelection for Donald Trump.

KHALID: What do you like about Joe Biden?

KEOGHAN: I heard about his gun policy, how he thinks manufacturers should be sued for the carnage that their products cause, and I feel that's something that should happen.

KHALID: The former vice president talks about gun reform a lot, and the Biden campaign says they know young voters care deeply about that issue. So they see this as a way for them to make inroads with young voters. Still, the campaign acknowledges it has work to do. So far, Sanders has won the vast majority of young people. And earlier this week, he delivered an implicit warning to Biden.


BERNIE SANDERS: You cannot simply be satisfied by winning the votes of people who are older.

KHALID: But Biden can keep losing young voters and still become the nominee. The issue is not the primaries; it's the general election. In 2016, some young voters who preferred Sanders in that primary chose to stay home in November rather than vote for any other candidate.

Asma Khalid, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Asma Khalid is a White House correspondent for NPR. She also co-hosts The NPR Politics Podcast.