Biden confronts 2024 weak spots with young, Black voters at Morehouse commencement

Elizabeth Frantz | Reuters
  • President Joe Biden addressed the war in Gaza and discussed his investments in Black communities during a commencement speech at Morehouse College, a historically Black men's college.
  • The remarks came as part of a larger effort to reinvigorate the young Black voter coalition that helped elect him in 2020, which he is currently lagging with, according to recent polls.
  • Officials across the administration have been traveling to battleground states to make the case for Biden's effectiveness for Black communities.

President Joe Biden on Sunday addressed the war in Gaza and discussed his investments in Black communities during a commencement speech at Morehouse College, part of a larger effort to reinvigorate the voter coalition that helped elect him in 2020.

"We're connecting Black neighborhoods cut off by old highways and decades of disinvestment when no one cared about the community," the president said at Morehouse, a historically Black men's college in Atlanta.

The president spotlighted several other policy victories to rally his audience, including his student loan relief program and a new $16 billion investment for historically Black colleges and universities, or HBCUs.

Biden's commencement address at Morehouse comes as recent polling has showed Black voters, especially young ones, have weakening enthusiasm for the president.

Biden's support among Black voters so far is 7 percentage points lower than it was at the same period in 2020, according to an NBC News average of national polls since April 1. Meanwhile, former President Donald Trump's support from Black voters has increased by 9 percentage points. But Biden still has the majority of support among Black voters, at 69% vs. Trump's 18%.

While he still holds steady ground with older Black voters, Biden's weakness with young voters is spurred in part by the ongoing tensions over the Israel-Hamas war, which have reached a fever pitch in recent weeks as college campuses have become hotbeds of protest.

"Your voices should be heard, and I promise you I hear them," Biden said during the address. "What's happening in Gaza and Israel is heartbreaking. … That's why I've called for an immediate cease-fire."

The roughly half-hour speech went basically uninterrupted by protests, though some students and faculty members expressed their support for Gaza during the ceremony. Biden's remarks were even well-received by some students.

"I'm happy with his words that he said," Morehouse graduating senior Sebastian Gordon told NBC News after the remarks. "I'm just gonna continue to watch to make sure his actions line up with that."

The Morehouse speech is one prong of a multifront strategy to reach out to the Black voter coalition and regain the momentum that propelled Biden to the White House in 2020, when 87% of Black voters supported him, according to NBC News exit polling data.

On Saturday, before the commencement address, Biden held a campaign event with Georgia voters and was set to meet with small-business owners in Detroit later Sunday, after which he was slated to deliver remarks to the NAACP, according to a campaign memo obtained by NBC News.

The campaign events come alongside an administration-wide effort to make the case for why Biden has been an effective president for Black communities.

Vice President Kamala Harris has spent years reaching out to Black voters over the course of Biden's first term. Most recently, she has been on a weeks-long "Economic Opportunity Tour," spotlighting the administration's attempts to lower costs and advance economic freedom for underserved groups, especially Black communities.

That pitch is not just coming from the top of the ticket.

For example, Treasury Undersecretary Wally Adeyemo who typically makes international trips to discuss G7-level economic security issues, has been making the rounds in U.S. battleground states to highlight Biden's economic agenda.

Adeyemo is scheduled to tour Nevada, a key voting bloc, with the state's Democratic Rep. Steven Horsford on Monday to tout Biden's progress on lowering energy and child care costs.

That comes after his trip to Wisconsin last Thursday with Harris' Economic Opportunity Tour.

"The number of Black small businesses have doubled during the Biden-Harris administration," Adeyemo said at the event Thursday. "And when Black Americans do well, everyone does well."

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