By Georgia Rosenberg and Lainy Ross
In the Democratic Party’s presidential primary, Stanford senior Chloe Stoddard passionately supported Elizabeth Warren because of the Massachusetts senator’s progressive agenda. But when Warren’s path to victory began to narrow, the leader of the campus group Cardinal for Warren soon came to terms with the fact that a considerably more moderate candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden, would be the party’s nominee.
Though disappointed, Stoddard did not relinquish her commitment to activism. She now leads Cardinal for Biden.
Her political transition in many ways epitomizes today’s young Democrats. A February 2020 Economist/YouGov poll revealed that 60% of Democratic voters under 30 supported either Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT) or Warren. By contrast, just 27% of Democrats 65 and older favored either candidate.
Political energy on Stanford’s campus – before Covid-19 rules prevented most students from being there – appeared limited to the two progressives early in the race. Stanford Students for Bernie often courted voters on White Plaza. Cardinal for Warren quickly grew into a robust student group at the beginning of the 2019-20 academic year. A student group in support of Biden did not form until June, when it was clear that he would be the Democratic nominee.
Now, those who previously supported Sanders or Warren are left with the former vice president – and some are more excited about his candidacy than others.
Stoddard supported Sanders during his presidential bid in 2016 before shifting to Warren in 2020. Her decision to support Warren, she said, grew out of extensive research and education. Stoddard ultimately decided that Warren was the candidate with “the most integrity” and “the most progressive and outlined plan that would allow the United States to see that progressive policies are actually possible,” she said in an interview.
Though Stoddard was disappointed when Warren dropped out of the race, she knew that she would support Biden because of her alignment with the Democratic Party. Stoddard also said it was Biden’s collaboration with Sanders to establish a “unity” task force that made her more passionate about the former vice president and inclined to organize on his behalf. The task force released a set of policy recommendations that address major domestic policy issues, including the economy, criminal justice, health care and the environment.
Cardinal for Biden believes that emphasizing Biden’s more progressive policies is the most effective way to mobilize Stanford students and ensure that they turn out in support of him. “We try to push the facts out about his policy plans and say, ‘This is what he wants to do. Does it look familiar? Yes! Because he worked with Bernie Sanders and other progressives on these issues,’” Stoddard said.
Biden’s selection of Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) as his running mate – the first woman of color to receive a national nomination from a major political party – appeased some voters. But it angered some progressives due to Harris’ record as a San Francisco prosecutor and her tenure as California attorney general.
Still, Stoddard describes Biden as a compromise candidate who has proven that he is willing to work with the progressive wing of the party. Despite her support, she does have some apprehension – a sentiment shared by many young Democratic voters. A recent POLITICO/Morning Consult poll found that 45% of Gen Zers – those born from 1997 onward – who support Biden are primarily doing so as a vote against President Donald Trump. Just 26% of all registered voters expressed the same sentiment.
Such feelings partially stem from young voters’ disillusionment with the Democratic Party establishment and have contributed to a popular slogan: “settling for Biden.”
Stoddard is one of many who identify with this idea. She noted that Biden is certainly “not Bernie or Warren” and never “intended his brand to be that way.” A Wisconsin native, she remains frustrated by Biden’s position on fracking, which he has pledged not to ban. She has trouble reconciling that stance with his broader commitment to expanding green energy.
“There’s settling, and there’s a little bit of compromising that’s happened as well,” Stossard said, adding that she does “see Biden as a vessel for change in many ways.”
The idea of “settling,” however, is not embraced by all of Biden’s more progressive supporters. Though he is not a member of the youth electorate, comparative literature professor David Palumbo-Liu was a vocal Sanders supporter throughout the primaries. Palumbo-Liu said he’s not settling for Biden but rather voting for him in defense of democracy. “Nothing that Biden has done as a politician inspires me,” he wrote in an email interview. “However, we have a much better chance of advancing a progressive agenda with him in office.”
Despite Biden’s relationship to the establishment and positioning at the ideological center – or some might argue at the right – of the Democratic Party, some now-supporters like Stoddard embrace the idea that Biden has the most progressive platform of any major party nominee in history. Former President Barack Obama declared just that in an April endorsement announcement.
Palumbo-Liu, however, believes that Biden’s platform is an empty reflection of political strategy. “I am not frustrated by his platform because I don’t take it seriously,” he wrote. “This is typical campaign stuff. There is no way in the world that Biden would even approach being the ‘most progressive president in history.’”
Stoddard trusts Biden to deliver on his progressive campaign promises, such as his $2 trillion plan to address climate change. She acknowledged that much also depends on the results of the House and Senate races. She finds comfort in Biden’s support for gay marriage, which he vocalized before having discussed going public on the matter with President Obama.
“I do think that there is a little bit of a moral compass for [Biden] because he adds everything up and does what he thinks is right sometimes,” Stoddard said.
Molly Campbell, a member of Cardinal for Biden’s Communications and Design Team, does not feel that she is “settling for Biden.” Campbell, who identifies as a moderate Democrat, originally supported Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D-IN) and embraced Biden’s nomination without trepidation.
“You may be settling for him, but you’re not really settling,” Campbell said. “You’re going to get a really good candidate and a really good president who I think is going to change this country for the better.”
Though Campbell acknowledges peers’ apprehension towards Biden’s candidacy, she has never been one to join in the young progressive movement. “I think there’s a trendiness in college to be anti-capitalist, to be like ‘I’m an anarchist’ or ‘I’m a radical progressive,’” she said. “But I think it’s just so detached from the reality of this country.”
Statistically, young voters are overwhelmingly supportive of Biden. According to a recent Morning Consult poll, Gen Zers are the candidate’s strongest age demographic.
More than anything, Campbell, Stoddard and their fellow student leaders believe that Biden will fix what President Trump broke. They emphasized that for them, this election is more about Trump than it is about Biden or personal political preferences.
“This is about ensuring that our union exists after this,” Campbell said. “Because there’s a chance that after eight years of this, we won’t be a country anymore.”
Getting young people to vote may be Cardinal for Biden’s most challenging feat. Historically, youth voters have been a low-turnout group, and some polls indicate that may not change dramatically this year. But images of early voting lines in states like Georgia and Texas have included many young faces.
Eleanor Schroeder, co-Director of Cardinal for Biden’s Communications and Design team remains optimistic about young voters’ electoral participation this time around.
“Seeing the young early voting numbers, we already know young voters see this as a turning point in our nation’s history,” she said. “Our generation will have to deal with the consequence of Trump’s reelection for many years to come.”