Florida Democrats Hope Abortion And Marijuana Questions Draw Young Voters Despite Low Enthusiasm

A QR code sign is displayed at Florida Atlantic University on Thursday, April 11, 2024, in Boca Raton, Fla. for students to register to vote. Abortion and marijuana will be on Florida's November ballot, and these issues are critical issues for young voters. (AP Photo/Cody Jackson)
A QR code sign is displayed at Florida Atlantic University on Thursday, April 11, 2024, in Boca Raton, Fla. for students to register to vote. Abortion and marijuana will be on Florida's November ballot, and these issues are critical issues for young voters. (AP Photo/Cody Jackson)
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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Jordan Vassallo is lukewarm about casting her first presidential ballot for President Joe Biden in November. But when the 18-year-old senior at Jupiter High School in Florida thinks about the things she cares about, she says her vote for the Democratic incumbent is an “obvious choice.”

Vassallo will be voting for a constitutional ballot amendment that would prevent the state of Florida from prohibiting abortion before a fetus can survive on its own — essentially the standard that existed nationally before the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the constitutional protections to abortion and left the matter for states to decide.

Passage of the amendment would wipe away Florida's six-week abortion law, which is set to take effect Wednesday. Vassallo says the ban makes no sense.

“Most people don't know they are pregnant at six weeks,” she said.

Biden, despite her reticence, will get her vote as well.

In Florida and across the nation, voters in Vassallo's age group could prove pivotal in the 2024 election, from the presidency to ballot amendments and down ballot races that will determine who controls Congress. She is likely to be among more than 8 million new voters eligible to vote this November since the 2022 elections, according to Tufts University Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement.

While some of those voters share Vassallo's priorities of gun violence prevention and abortion rights, recent protests on college campuses about the war between Israel and Hamas, including at some Florida campuses, have thrown a new element of uncertainty into the mix. In Florida and elsewhere, observers across the political spectrum are looking on with intense interest.

Florida Democrats hope young voters will be driven to the polls by ballot amendments legalizing marijuana and enshrining abortion rights. They hope the more tolerant views of young voters on those issues will reverse an active voter registration edge of nearly 900,000 for Republicans in Florida, which has turned from the ultimate swing state in 2000 to reliably Republican in recent years.

According to AP VoteCast, an expansive survey of the electorate, about 8 in 10 Florida voters under age 45 in the 2022 midterm elections said the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade had an impact on their decision to vote and who to support. The youngest voters, under age 30, appeared more likely than others to say the decision was the single most important factor in their votes, with about 3 in 10 saying that, compared with about 2 in 10 older voters.

Nathan Mitchell, president of Florida Atlantic University’s College Republicans, questions how impactful abortion will be in the election.

According to AP VoteCast, relatively few Florida voters in the 2022 midterms believed abortion should be either completely banned or fully permitted in all cases. Even among Republicans, just 12% said abortion should be illegal in all cases. About half of Republicans said it should be banned in most cases.

Voters under 45 were slightly more likely than others to say abortion should always be legal, with 30% taking that position.

Mitchell said while abortion is a strong issue, especially for women, he doesn't think it will drive many younger voters to the polls.

“I think other amendments will probably do that, especially the recreational marijuana amendment,” Mitchell said. “I think that’s going to bring out a lot more voters than abortion will.”

The AP VoteCast survey lends some credence to his thinking. About 6 in 10 Florida voters in the 2022 elections favored legalizing the recreational use of marijuana nationwide, the survey found. Among voters under 45, that was 76%. Still, it’s unclear how important that issue is for younger voters compared with other issues.

The big question is whether other issues can override Biden's enthusiasm problem among young Florida voters, and elsewhere.

Six in 10 adults under 30 nationally said in a December AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll that they would be dissatisfied with Biden as the Democratic Party nominee in 2024. And only about 2 in 10 said in a March poll that “excited” would describe their emotions if Biden were re-elected.

Young voters were crucial to the broad and racially diverse coalition that helped elect Biden in 2020. About 6 in 10 voters under 30 backed Biden nationally, according to AP VoteCast. A Pew Research Center survey showed that those under age 30 made up 38% of new or irregular voters in that election.

In Florida, Biden won 64% of young voters – similar to his national numbers.

New issues that concern young voters have emerged this year. Biden's handling of the Israel-Hamas war has sparked protests at college campuses across the country, and Biden's inability to deliver broad-based student loan forgiveness affects many young voters directly. Concern about climate change also continues to grow. AP-NORC data from February shows that majorities of Americans under 30 disapprove of how Biden is handling a range of issues, including the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians, immigration, the economy, climate change and abortion policy.

But in Florida, it will be abortion rights and marijuana that give voters actual control over issues beyond a presidential rematch most did not want but got anyway, said Trevian Briskey, a 21-year-old FAU student.

Tony Figueroa, president of Miami Young Republicans, said the abortion issue is important to many young voters, regardless of where they stand. He noted, however, that Florida “is a very conservative state.” That means some of the young voters motivated by the issue favor stricter abortion laws.

“Given how Florida has become so much more red over the past couple of years, really it’s more of a way to galvanize or mobilize young voters where this is an important issue for them,” Figueroa said. “It’s really a way to get them to come out in droves.”

Matheus Xavier, 21, who studies biology at Florida Atlantic University, said he considered voting for Trump at some point, but changed his mind since Biden fell more in line with the things he cares about, including the preservation of abortion rights.

“At the end of the day, you gotta go with what you support," he said. "I guess Biden kinda shows more of that. If there was another option that was actually good, I’d probably go for that.”


AP Director of Public Opinion Research Emily Swanson and staff writer Linley Sanders in Washington contributed to this report.