As expected, Bernie Sanders amassed an astounding lead among young voters on Super Tuesday, running up a +43 score among voters age 18 to 29 with 60% of the vote compared to 17% for Joe Biden, and also topping Biden by 18% in the 30 to 44 bracket. The older the voter got, the more the situation flipped—Biden was +23 in the 45-64 demographic, and +35 among voters 65 and older, a group that even preferred Michael Bloomberg to Sanders.
Clearly, with numbers like these, everything boils down to turnout, and in that department the youth vote was trounced. Ironically, more young people voted in 2020 than in 2016, which seems to be good news on the surface, but because turnout was up everywhere, they actually accounted for a smaller share of the electorate. USA Today gives a representative case:
In Virginia, for example, more than 1.3 million voters cast ballots compared to the roughly 800,000 four years ago. But exit polls on Super Tuesday showed that the share of young voters as a percentage of the entire electorate declined in the Old Dominion, diminishing their influence as a voting bloc.
In state after state, the case was the same—even if youth turnout increased, it was being dwarfed by turnout among older voters. Sanders had to admit his failure on Wednesday:
“Have we been as successful as I would hope in bringing in young people in? And the answer is ‘no’,” he said.
“We’re making some progress but historically everybody knows that young people do not vote in the kind of numbers that older people vote,” he said. “I think that will change in the general election. But to be honest with you, we have not done as well in bringing young people into the process. It is not easy.”
You can frame this in a few ways. Young people have a vision for the future, but only so many of them. Older voters, when presented with that vision, turned out in droves to crush it. And then there’s this:
Like it or not, the media played an enormous role in Biden's comeback by framing his South Carolina victory as a singular triumph, rather than balancing it with his poor performance in Iowa and New Hampshire. It made an obvious impact, with late-deciding voters overwhelmingly choosing Biden, and early voting margins that favored Sanders being overturned completely on election day, as we saw in Texas:
And therein lies the problem—Bernie Sanders has a movement in a way that no other candidate can claim, including Biden, but his movement happens to be centered among a group of people who vote at smaller rates than their elders. Due to media coverage, bad timing in South Carolina, and massive turnout in places like Virginia among older suburbanites, Sanders needed more than just a huge victory margin among his people. He needed more of them.