Exclusive Analysis: Super Tuesday shakes up the race, youth continue to support Sanders

Youth participation and vote choice varies by state

A chart showing how each candidate did with the youth vote on Super Tuesday, with Bernie Sanders performing the best.

MEDFORD/SOMERVILLE, Mass. (Mar. 4, 2020)On Super Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders continued to see the strong youth support he has enjoyed throughout the 2020 Democratic primaries, though the extent of that support varied by state, 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. The researchers also found youth participation was generally higher than comparable presidential election years.

Read CIRCLE’s Super Tuesday youth turnout and vote choice analysis here.

Among the nine Super Tuesday primaries for which preliminary data are available, the general trend is that youth participation was higher than in other years with a competitive primary election in only one political party (2004 and 2012). The youth share of the vote (i.e., the percentage of all voters who were young) varied considerably from state to state, with Minnesota, Massachusetts and North Carolina seeing higher youth representation. For example, in Minnesota, a remarkable 1 in 5 voters were under age 30 (19% youth share), while in Alabama, young people made up only 10% of the overall vote.

A chart showing comparisons of youth voter turnout on Super Tuesday 2020 in nine statesA chart showing comparisons of youth voter turnout on Super Tuesday 2020 in nine states

For the nine states for which data is available at this time, Sanders won the youth vote, though his margins of victory varied. For example, Sanders won 68% of the youth vote in his home state of Vermont, while he won 55% of the youth vote in Virginia, 51% in Massachusetts and 46% in Alabama. His lower margins among youth, especially black youth, likely contributed to former Vice President Joe Biden’s margins of victory across the Southern states.

“The Super Tuesday results remind us that there is more work to do to engage all young people in the electoral process. Some states, including Minnesota and Massachusetts, saw high youth turnout and engagement, while others like Alabama, Oklahoma and Tennessee lagged,” said Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg, director of Tisch College’s CIRCLE. “As we look ahead to November, we should redouble our efforts to expand youth participation by speaking with and to young people.”

Key findings from the researchers include:

  • Of the nine Super Tuesday primaries for which preliminary data are available, five saw higher youth turnout compared to at least one of the comparable years (2004 and 2012), and six saw a higher youth share of voters. For purposes of comparison, 2004 and 2012 are the most recent years in which there was an incumbent president and one political party had a competitive primary.
  • In Texas, one of the most diverse Super Tuesday states and a state where the 2018 elections created new pathways for potential Democratic voters, the youth turnout rate was 7%, though the youth share was 15%, up considerably from 2004 (10%). Latino youth preferred Sanders over Biden, 66% versus 10%, and made up a larger share of voters than young white Texans. According to the exit polls, Sanders won 58% of the youth vote (ages 17-29), and the higher support among Latino youth likely contributed to his close second-place victory overall in the state.
  • Massachusetts saw a strong youth turnout rate of 19%, matching Minnesota for the highest turnout rate among Super Tuesday states, and marking an overall youth share of the vote in Massachusetts of 16%. Sanders garnered 51% of the youth vote in Massachusetts, with Biden and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren each getting 21% of the under-30 vote.

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 and analysis throughout the 2020 election cycle. Please visit circle.tufts.edu for the latest data and research. Media outlets should contact Jen McAndrew at jennifer.mcandrew@tufts.edu, or 617 627-2029.

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