Just how badly did the Democratic Party ignore young voters?
The horserace polls dominating headlines these days contain very little actual information. Somewhat lost in all this noise are the highly illuminating Generation Forward surveys by the “Black Youth Project at the University of Chicago with the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.” By focusing only on “likely voters” to predict the actual general election outcome, the horserace polls are missing a lot of opportunity to learn about other groups. In particular, those polls under-sample independents, young people, and minority ethnic groups, and say nothing at all about people who don’t plan to vote. The GenForward survey actually did the hard work of recruiting almost 2,000 people age 18–30, and getting adequate sample sizes of 4 ethnic groups: African-American, Asian-American, Hispanic, and Non-Hispanic White. In terms of information, this survey is a goldmine.
First, we can dispel with the myth that Bernie Sanders did not appeal to black voters, or more generally to non-white voters. Among this age cohort, Bernie was more popular than Hillary among all ethnic groups. Further, whites weren’t even the strongest Bernie supporters — they were outdone by both Hispanics and Asians. Early voter-registration deadlines for primaries in many states are an unfortunate, unnecessary, and unjust barrier to young, first-time primary voters, and without them young people could have participated in higher rates and helped Sanders easily win the nomination.
Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party establishment have even bigger problems with young voters than the above table implies. Consider this, also from the June survey:
Clinton only gets the same level of support as “someone else” and “probably not vote” combined, and this is true even among Hispanics. You might protest: “But wait, this was back in June. Surely they’ve come around and now support her, right?” I’ve got bad news for you. In the September poll, her numbers and Trump’s numbers are essentially the same as above, 36% and 18% respectively. “Someone else” and “probably not vote” now only add up to 21%, and Jill Stein and Gary Johnson together take another 15%. It still gets worse. In the June poll, young people who said they supported Clinton over Trump were asked a follow-up question.
The last two tables help explain why Clinton struggled to pull ahead of Trump all summer and only recently gained a margin after Trump began imploding over sex scandals. Young voters are not at all enthusiastic about her. They are mostly voting against Trump, not for Clinton. Now, compare that sad state of affairs with what could have been if Bernie were the nominee.
Instead of Clinton’s 38-17 lead over Trump, Bernie absolutely crushes him 61–16. And what’s more, in that election young people would be voting FOR rather than AGAINST, and once again he does better than Clinton here among all ethnic groups:
Sadly, things didn’t turn out that way. This question helps explain why:
If the reader has any lingering doubt about whether Clinton’s appeal among minorities is overrated, look closely at this one.
There’s so much more in these surveys, including issue-specific questions, that I plan to delve into more soon. For now, Democrats would do well to remember (1) the demographic narrative of the 2016 Democratic Primary is one of age, not race, and (2) they won’t always be running against Donald Trump.