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Bernie Sanders helped Biden get young voters in 2020. What will happen this election?

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Four years ago this week, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders dropped his presidential bid and endorsed Joe Biden. In doing so, the former rivals worked together to craft policy proposals that bridged Democratic divides. That helped Biden appeal to young voters who were key to his 2020 win. Four years later, Biden is again struggling to win over young voters. NPR's Elena Moore reports on whether another unity moment is possible.

ELENA MOORE, BYLINE: Four years ago, Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden did a 2020 version of an endorsement rally - a remote livestream.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BERNIE SANDERS: Not in a million years would we have believed that we would be talking to each other in our respective homes.

MOORE: But that wasn't the only thing different.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SANDERS: Your staff and my staff have been working together to - coming up with a number of task forces.

MOORE: The working group spent the next several months creating a big document of policy proposals focused on topics like the economy and climate. It was a clear attempt by Democrats to come together behind their nominee. Biden struggled to energize young voters, voters who had overwhelmingly supported Sanders in both 2016 and 2020. Carmel Martin was a senior policy adviser to Biden's 2020 campaign.

CARMEL MARTIN: It was a way that we could send a signal to the people who were supporting Senator Sanders that what they cared about mattered to President Biden as well.

MOORE: Martin says policies from that effort became part of Biden's platform and his first term agenda - things like student loan forgiveness and spending on climate, two issues important for younger voters. Fast-forward to now, Sanders is still backing Biden, even stumping for him 2024-style on the campaign's TikTok account.

(SOUNDBITE OF TIKTOK VIDEO)

SANDERS: That's why I'm supporting Joe, and I hope you will as well.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Thanks, pal.

MOORE: And the reelection campaign says Biden is building on the work started four years ago.

MAXWELL FROST: You know, back then, he had to pull people in to create a unity coalition. He had to bring in Bernie. He brought in young people, but now we're already in.

MOORE: That's Florida progressive Maxwell Frost. He's the first Gen Z member of Congress and sits on Biden's campaign advisory board. He's been pushing for younger voters to give the president another chance. But Democrats have new challenges this cycle. For one, Biden has a presidential record.

FAIZ SHAKIR: Now he owns the Middle East policy, Ukraine policy, migrant policy.

MOORE: Faiz Shakir is chief political adviser to Sanders and served as his 2020 campaign manager.

SHAKIR: There's an assumption and expectation that Joe Biden has to deliver on different policy outcomes that particularly young people would like to see.

MOORE: And many young people aren't liking what they see. According to the latest NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll, 6 in 10 young voters disapprove of Biden's job as president. He's particularly faced opposition over his support of Israel in its war in Gaza. And though Biden has become more critical of Israel's leadership, he's yet to go to the extent that many young progressives want. But Sanders' 2020 alums remain hopeful that the president can again rally a broad coalition, partially because of his ability to take in critical feedback.

ANALILIA MEJIA: Joe Biden is undeniably a politically astute leader.

MOORE: Analilia Mejia was Sanders' 2020 policy director.

MEJIA: That doesn't mean perfection, but that means understanding where people are and understanding when there is a need to shift. I think Joe Biden has shown that repeatedly.

MOORE: Faiz Shakir agrees and says there's a reason that many young people aren't on board yet.

SHAKIR: They're not done pushing him. If you're asking a young person, do you approve of Joe Biden? If you say yes, it suggests that I'm done, and I agree with his positions. And if you look at a - young people, I don't think that they are.

MOORE: Shakir says Sanders is also pushing Biden, urging him to lay out a second term progressive agenda. If the president can do that, Shakir hopes young voters will once again see Biden as their best choice.

Elena Moore, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Elena Moore is a production assistant for the NPR Politics Podcast. She also fills in as a reporter for the NewsDesk. Moore previously worked as a production assistant for Morning Edition. During the 2020 presidential campaign, she worked for the Washington Desk as an editorial assistant, doing both research and reporting. Before coming to NPR, Moore worked at NBC News. She is a graduate of The George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and is originally and proudly from Brooklyn, N.Y.