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Younger voters choose Biden over Trump — but they're not wild about either

A new poll analysis shows major gaps by race and gender among Generation Z and millennial voters.
Image: Young voters
Students wait to vote at a polling station on the campus of the University of California, Irvine, on Nov. 6, 2018.Robyn Beck / AFP - Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Every election cycle, Democratic political operatives rack their brains about how to motivate a voting bloc that's both reliably on their side of the ballot and unreliable about actually showing up: younger voters.

This year is no exception. There are registration programs. Concerts. Billie Eilish. Barack Obama making jokes about Childish Gambino. More celebrity PSAs than you can shake an emoji at.

But what are younger voters actually telling pollsters about the election — and what do they think of their choices for president?

A new exclusive analysis conducted for Quibi and NBC News compiled data about more than 2,000 young voters surveyed in the NBC News/Wall Street Journal polls from January through August of this year.

The data show that, while younger voters overwhelmingly say they will choose Joe Biden over Donald Trump, they're not all that enamored of Biden, either.

Here are five things the new analysis tells us about Generation Z (ages 18-23) and millennial voters (ages 24-39).

1. Yes, younger voters plan to vote for Biden over Trump

Younger voters have historically gravitated toward Democrats. In 2016, exit polls showed that voters under 30 picked Hillary Clinton by an 18-point margin, while those between 30 and 40 years old selected her by an 11-point margin.

This cycle, according to the new dataset, Biden enjoys an even more robust advantage among younger voters in a head-to-head contest with Trump.

Among Gen Z voters (who make up about 7 percent of the electorate, based on the aggregated data), Biden leads in a head-to-head matchup by 24 points, 57 percent to 33 percent.

Among millennials (who make up about 25 percent of the electorate), Biden leads by 20 points, 55 percent to 35 percent.

2. Trump is unpopular, but Biden is also underwater

Overall, Trump's favorability and job approval among younger generations are fairly grim.

Among the youngest cohort, Gen Z, 59 percent view the president negatively, compared to just 27 percent who view him positively. That's a net negative rating of minus-32 points.

Among millennials, the picture is only marginally better; 57 percent view him negatively overall, while just 32 percent view him positively, for a net negative rating of minus-25 points.

But while Biden isn't as starkly disliked as Trump, he is far from beloved.

Just 26 percent of Gen Z voters view him positively, and 41 percent view him negatively, for a net negative rating of minus-15 points.

Among millennials, it's 29 percent positive, 41 percent negative, for a net negative rating of minus-12 points.

The voters who make up these younger generations' parents and grandparents are significantly less gloomy about Biden. Both baby boomers (those ages 56 to 74) and those in the silent generation (those over 75) give Biden a slight net positive favorability rating.

3. There's a big gap between younger white voters and voters of color

Younger voters of color are less likely than their white counterparts to have negative views of Biden and far less likely to choose Trump in a head-to-head ballot test.

Among Gen Z and millennial voters of color, a third or fewer (34 percent and 27 percent, respectively) view Biden negatively. But 47 percent of both white Gen Z voters and white millennial voters give Biden a thumbs-down.

The divide is even sharper when it comes to vote choice.

For both Gen Z and millennial voters who are white, 42 percent say they would pick Trump over Biden. But just 22 percent of Gen Z voters of color — and 19 percent of millennials of color — say they're choosing to vote for Trump.

4. Younger women are overwhelmingly on Biden's side. But among younger men, it's close.

National polling overall shows a significant gender gap in the race, and young voters are no exception.

Younger women make their choices very clear, according to these data: Gen Z women are breaking for Biden by nearly a 3-to-1 ratio , 69 percent to 25 percent.

It's a similar picture among millennial women, who pick Biden by 65 percent to 28 percent.

But among younger men, Biden is just barely ahead.

Among Gen Z men, Biden bests Trump by just 44 percent to 42 percent in a head-to-head matchup.

Among millennial men, it's similar — 45 percent for Biden to 42 percent for Trump.

5. The youngest voters are the most diverse generation — Gen Z

Overall, of the thousands of respondents surveyed in the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll so far this year, about one-quarter have been voters of color.

But among the youngest cohort, Gen Z, a much larger share — 40 percent — are people of color.

That's compared to 29 percent of millennials but just 24 percent of Generation X voters, 17 percent of boomers and 19 percent of those in the silent generation.

This data analysis from Democratic polling firm Hart Research and Republican polling firm Public Opinion Strategies aggregates all poll respondents in the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll from January through August 2020. A total of 457 Generation Z respondents were polled, with a margin of error of +/- 4.58 percentage points. A total of 1,611 millennial respondents were polled, with a margin of error of +/- 2.44 percentage points.