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How will the Supreme Court’s recent decisions affect young voters?

William A. Galston
Bill Galston
William A. Galston Ezra K. Zilkha Chair and Senior Fellow - Governance Studies

Monday, July 24, 2023


  • For the most part, the opinions of young adults did not differ significantly from those of older Americans.
  • According to YouGov polling, older and younger Americans diverged sharply on only one issue — student loans.
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Last year, the Supreme Court’s 2022 Dobbs decision overturning Roe v. Wade created a nationwide furor that helped Democrats minimize their losses in that year’s midterm election. But this year, public reaction was much less fierce to the mostly conservative decisions with which the Court ended this year’s term, and it’s not hard to see why: in most cases, majorities of Americans supported these decisions. This includes young adults ages 18 to 29 who have given Democratic presidential candidates about 60% of their votes in the past two presidential elections and House candidates about 70% in the past two midterm elections. Against this backdrop, these voters would have been expected to object vigorously to the court’s recent decisions.

This did not happen. For the most part, the opinions of young adults did not differ significantly from those of older Americans. If we divide the population into two age cohorts — 18 to 44 and 45+ — the picture is much the same.

TABLE ONE: ATTITUDES ON MAJOR 2023 SUPREME COURT CASES BY AGE

Total 18-29 30-44 45-64 65+
Allow private colleges and universities to use race as a factor in admissions 31% 36% 31% 26% 33%
Allow public colleges and universities to use race as a factor in admissions 26% 38% 29% 17% 26%
State courts can exercise oversight over federal elections 55% 55% 57% 52% 57%
Anti-discrimination laws violate creative businesses’ free speech rights 51% 44% 49% 57% 50%
States must redraw lines to provide more majority-Black districts 53% 49% 53% 50% 60%
The Clean Water Act should be read narrowly to exclude wetlands 28% 34% 28% 25% 25%
Internet companies can be held liable for algorithmic recommendations 68% 60% 63% 71% 81%
Internet companies can be held liable for not removing terrorism content 72% 68% 65% 74% 82%
The Biden administration has the authority to forgive student loans 50% 62% 62% 39% 41%
Placing Native American foster children only in Native American homes is racial discrimination 47% 52% 47% 47% 41%
Forcing a postal worker with religious objections to work on Sunday is religious discrimination 51% 51% 54% 50% 47%

(Source: YouGov Scotus Survey, April 11, 2023)

Older and younger Americans diverged sharply on only one issue — student loans. While the country as a whole was divided 50-50 on whether Biden’s loan forgiveness plan exceeded his legal authority, young adults ages 18-29 supported the plan by 62% to 38%, as did Americans ages 30-44. By contrast, 6 in 10 adults 45 and older opposed the program.

Although Democrats probably will continue to mobilize public support in response to the Court’s abortion decision, it does not appear likely that this year’s decisions will offer comparable opportunities. Most of these decisions enjoy majority support, and the ones that do not have not evoked passionate reactions. If Democrats try to mobilize young adults against the decisions they most oppose, they may antagonize older voters who support certain decisions.

This is especially likely on the question of student loan forgiveness. About half a trillion dollars of taxpayers’ money is at stake, and many older adults do not understand why this generation of student borrowers should be exempted from the responsibility to repay their loans that previous generations of students worked hard to discharge. Voters ages 45 and older made up 60% of the electorate in 2020, a figure that is unlikely to change dramatically in 2024. And although Democrats overwhelmingly support loan forgiveness, Independents oppose it by 56% to 44%. Appealing to younger voters on this issue could end up backfiring next year.

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