Columbia, S.C. — In 2020, Black voters in South Carolina handed now-President Joe Biden his first primary victory and helped propel him to the White House. This year, Biden changed South Carolina’s Democratic primary to the first in the nation, because its diversity “reflects the nation more,” with Black voters comprising over 60% of the Democratic base. With no real challengers, the president swept 96% of the vote.

But some young Black South Carolinians say they have seen enthusiasm around Biden fading in their communities since he took office.

Eboni Dawkins, an 18-year-old student at the University of South Carolina, remembers going to the polls in November 2020 with family and seeing members of the Divine Nine — historically Black fraternities and sororities — showing out in their Greek-letter shirts for vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris.

“Black people are always gonna ride for that. That’s a family for people that’s part of it,” Dawkins said. “They wanted to support that Black woman that was running.”

Seeing someone who looked like her in office, Dawkins thought, meant they would represent her interests and bring change in her community. But she said she hasn’t seen Biden or Harris doing anything to improve the lives of those whose support propelled them to office.

“You don’t really see him doing nothing but falling down stairs,” Dawkins said, referencing when the president slipped on the steps of Air Force One in September. “I’ve heard that you don’t really see Kamala doing nothing. Being a part of D9, being Black in general isn’t enough anymore.”

Without an endorsement from veteran Black Democrat Rep. Jim Clyburn in 2020 and the resulting support from Black voters in South Carolina, Biden wouldn’t be president today, said Scott Huffmon, a professor of political science at Winthrop University.

Skyla Praylow, 19, said Biden and other politicians try to court Black communities but aren’t doing much to help them. She pointed to Biden’s January visit to Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, where a shooter killed nine parishioners in 2015.

“I heard about Biden going to the church,” she said. “But it’s not like there are policies there to help it. It is a poor area, and it’s really visible.”

It’s a sign that the Biden administration hasn’t reciprocated the support they received from Black voters in 2020, she said.

Students said Biden broke his 2020 campaign promise on forgiving student loan debt. Just Wednesday, Biden announced another $1.2 billion canceled in student loan debt, bringing the total during his presidency to $138 billion canceled for 3.9 million borrowers.

Students knew little about Biden’s progress in canceling student loan debt, or who it applied to. Lashay Jackson, 19, said it was another empty promise that candidates make to get in office and fail to act on quickly enough.

Their critiques came in sharp contrast with what Clay Middleton, Biden’s South Carolina senior advisor, said Biden’s message was in this year’s South Carolina primary: promise made, promise kept.

Biden won overwhelmingly in the primary, but turnout fell from 16% of total eligible voters in 2020 to 4% in 2024. Huffmon identified a few potential reasons for low turnout, including voter confusion over the early, first-in-the-nation date, and a lack of enthusiasm for Biden.

“Usually the approval rating for a Democratic president among Democrats is going to be close to 90%. For Biden, his approval rating among Democrats is only a little over 70%. And that’s in South Carolina, where African Americans make up a ton of the Democratic support,” Huffmon said. “The (primary) was definitely an attempt to show enthusiasm for Biden. I’m not sure it succeeded.”

Jackson said she doesn’t know what Biden has done during his presidency. But she sees plenty of problems getting worse: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, high prices and even COVID-19. 

“After his presidential election, it’s like he fell off the face of the earth,” she said. “I feel like if things were going well, we would hear about it a lot more.”

Biden has participated in fewer interviews and news conferences than any of his predecessors going back to Ronald Reagan, and Democratic officials have pushed him to make more public appearances to shore up confidence in his mental sharpness.

Meanwhile, reporters and Biden’s opponents have jumped on the narrative that his age makes him unfit for office. Many students said Biden’s age makes him out of touch with what the country needs, and Praylow said she wants him to listen to the younger people in the Democratic party.

“I feel like there need to be younger candidates,” Praylow said. “Both (Biden and Trump) are old men, honestly. Both need to be out of there.”