One of the goals of this week’s virtual Democratic National Convention is to win over undecided voters. While one group that the convention has clearly targeted is disaffected Republicans, it is also crucial for the Biden campaign to win over reluctant voters from demographic groups that did not support him during the primaries, such as Arab and Muslim Americans, Latinos, and young people.
Yesterday, Alexander Sammon wrote for the Prospect about the misguided efforts to use celebrities, instead of policy concessions, to build support among youth voters. The Young Americans for Biden pre-show yesterday followed in those footsteps. The event was hosted by the actor Cyn Santana and featured a musical performance by Sam Harris of the X Ambassadors, along with brief remarks from leaders of Students for Biden and María Teresa Kumar, the CEO of Voto Latino, a nonprofit that encourages young Hispanic and Latino Americans to vote. While most of the speakers simply emphasized the importance of voting, Kumar did highlight the policy differences between Biden and Trump on issues such as climate change, voting rights, and education.
The event was supposed to be highlighted by a speech from Pete Buttigieg, but rather than playing his prerecorded message to young voters, the organizers of the event accidentally played a different Buttigieg statement—one intended to address Iowans for Biden.
Even before this misstep, having Buttigieg as the keynote speaker for such an event was a strange choice. Although Buttigieg, at 37 years old, was the youngest of the serious contenders for the Democratic nomination, he struggled to attract young voters. Most polls from this demographic showed him trailing Andrew Yang, Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, and, in some cases, Joe Biden as well. Once the voting began, Sanders overwhelmingly won young voters, but instead of using him (or one of the many young progressives who have been elected to office since Sanders’s run in 2016), the campaign opted for a surrogate who shares little but his age with young voters.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the most prominent of those young progressives in Congress, noted on Twitter that even though using celebrities and young politicians is wonderful, it is not “what activates young people’s votes. Policy commitments do.”