On Super Tuesday, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders saw a disappointing turnout of young voters across the board.
Exit polls Tuesday night showed that in Alabama, 10% of all voters were in the 17-29 bracket, a 4% decrease compared to 2016’s 14% share. North Carolina saw a 2% drop, Virginia and Massachusetts a 3% drop, Tennessee a 4% drop, and Vermont and Texas a 5% drop.
Not only that, Sanders generally won a lower margin of young people who did turn out than he did four years ago. Aiding Joe Biden’s landslide in Virginia, Sanders won 55% of the youth vote compared to 69% in 2016.
To be sure, Sanders did affirmatively win the youth vote. However, that won’t be enough, for a couple reasons. First, the 78-year-old has an established reputation as (ironically, delightfully) this race’s “youth candidate,” turning out huge crowds of young people at rallies and events; anyone who knows the name “Bernie Sanders” knows the kids love him.
More importantly, recent academic studies have found that Sanders would need not only a strong but “miracle” youth turnout in the general to match a moderate candidate’s chances against Trump. According to a recent study by David Broockman of the University of California-Berkeley and Joshua Kalla of Yale University, to compensate for the number of swing voters and moderates who would stay home or pivot to Trump if Sanders were the nominee, Sanders would need to turn out one in six left-leaning young people who wouldn’t ordinarily vote.
That data means Sanders’ path to being competitive in the general (much less overpowering the Republican backlash that would arise in response to his nomination and beating Trump) is trusting that the 11% of Democrats and Independents under 35 who say they’ll only turn out for him actually do so.
Those voters didn’t follow through Tuesday, adding weight to the conventional logic that young folks’ support doesn’t translate into votes, and giving Sanders even less reason to believe that might change later on.