Exclusive Analysis: Young people propel Sanders to victory in New Hampshire primary

Youth turnout in New Hampshire is strong, despite barriers; Sanders benefits

A chart showing the breakdown of which Democratic candidates young voters supported in the 2020 New Hampshire primary. Senator Bernie Sanders received 51 percent of the youth vote.

MEDFORD/SOMERVILLE, Mass. (Feb. 12, 2020)In a very close race in the New Hampshire Democratic primary, young people made the difference for U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, according to a youth turnout analysis released by researchers from the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE)—the preeminent, non-partisan research center on youth engagement at Tufts University’s Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life. Sanders received over 10,000 more votes from young people than second place finisher Pete Buttigieg in a race that was decided by less than 5,000 votes.

Young people (ages 18-29) turned out at an estimated rate of 19%, and made up a 14% share of all Democratic primary participants. They strongly backed Sanders, D-Vermont, (51%), followed by Buttigieg, former mayor of South Bend, Indiana (20%). Other candidates garnered single-digit youth support. These estimates make clear that youth support for Sanders was the key to his narrow victory in the state.

Read CIRCLE’s New Hampshire youth turnout and vote choice analysis here.

“As we saw in Iowa, and throughout 2018, young people are making a big difference for the candidates they support, propelling Sen. Sanders to the top spot in New Hampshire in a close and highly visible contest,” said Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg, director of Tisch College’s CIRCLE. “It is early in the 2020 process, and the first two states to vote do not represent the demographics of the nation. But it is clear that young people know they are important stakeholders and are motivated to participate, even despite some headwinds in a state that passed a measure that could be confusing to young and new voters.”

Key findings include:

  • Youth remain energized in 2020. Young people turned out at an estimated rate of 19% in New Hampshire, making up 14% of all voters in the Democratic primary and 10% of all voters for the GOP. Youth turnout in the Democratic primary (estimated at 19% of all eligible citizens under 30) is higher than the last two years where there was an incumbent president and only one party’s nominating contest was competitive: 2012 (15% turnout in the Republican primary) and, especially, 2004 (18% turnout in the Democratic primary).
  • Young people key to victory for Sanders. According to exit poll data, half of young people (51%) supported Sanders, followed by 20% for Buttigieg. Other candidates garnered much lower support in the single digits. For the second state in a row, former Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, struggled with youth; neither has cracked 5% youth support in Iowa or New Hampshire. Given the very close race in New Hampshire, and the wide margin of youth support, it is evident that young people made the difference for Sanders.
  • Young people continue to vote quite differently from voters over 45 years old. While Sanders saw a 30-point margin of victory among younger voters, Buttigieg beat Sanders handily (26% to 17%) among voters 45 and older. If young people had been even slightly more evenly distributed, it could have shifted the results.

CIRCLE is a nonpartisan, independent, academic research center that studies young people in politics and presents detailed data on young voters in all 50 states. CIRCLE is part of Tufts University’s Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life. Recognizing that young voters are diverse in many ways, CIRCLE will continue to release exclusive polling (on youth in Texas and nationally) and analysis throughout the 2020 election cycle. Please visit circle.tufts.edu for the latest data and research.

Researchers are available for interviews. Media outlets should contact Jen McAndrew at jennifer.mcandrew@tufts.edu, or 617 627-2029.

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Tufts University, located on campuses in Boston, Medford/Somerville and Grafton, Massachusetts, and in Talloires, France, is recognized among the premier research universities in the United States. Tufts enjoys a global reputation for academic excellence and for the preparation of students as leaders in a wide range of professions. A growing number of innovative teaching and research initiatives span all Tufts campuses, and collaboration among the faculty and students in the undergraduate, graduate and professional programs across the university's schools is widely encouraged.

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