by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
The youth vote is a pillar of the modern Democratic Party coalition. It was essential for former President Barack Obama’s 2008 and 2012 victories, and to Hillary Clinton earning a plurality of the popular vote. While voters under the age of 35 seem to be a lock for Democrats, they are less than enthusiastic about supporting Joe Biden, and it could become a serious problem in the fall.
During the Democratic primary, young voters across the country flocked to Sen. Bernie Sanders, even in states that overwhelmingly voted for Biden. In Alabama and South Carolina, where Biden won 63% and 49% of the vote, exit polls showed he still lost voters under the age of 30 by a double-digit margin.
Clinton experienced a similar pattern during the 2016 Democratic primary, yet by the time she clinched the nomination, polls showed that young voters preferred her far better than Donald Trump. Polls conducted by Fox News, Bloomberg News, the Economist/YouGov, ABC/Washington Post, and Monmouth University right before the general election showed Clinton with a 21-point lead among voters under 35. She ultimately won that age group by 19 points, 55 to 36, with 9% of young voters choosing a third-party candidate.
So far, Biden hasn’t had the same luck as Clinton with wooing young voters.
His first problem is they didn’t show up en masse in 2020, not even for Sanders. A study by The Harvard Institute of Politics found that youth turnout was either down or flat in eight of the first 12 primary contests, including in crucial swing states such as New Hampshire and North Carolina. This happened even though Sanders’s campaign designed its message and platform to cater to young progressives across the country.
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