CIRCLE (The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement)
conducts research on the civic and political engagement of young Americans.
The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement

Young Voters at Core of Sanders Upset in Michigan; Republican Youth Participation Continues to Rise

March 9th, 2016
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The presidential nominating contests continued on Tuesday with primaries in four states, and young people continued their trend of making a mark on this election cycle. In Mississippi, increased participation by young people in the Republican primary[1] contributed to overall youth participation surpassing the previous high in 2008, while on the Democratic side Secretary Clinton registered a rare “win” with youth over Senator Sanders.  Meanwhile, estimated youth participation and turnout in Michigan doubled the record numbers from 2008, and significant support from young people helped propel Sanders to his surprising victory in the state.

Youth Turnout Estimates Show Dramatic Increase in Michigan and Rise in Mississippi

Record-high youth turnout in this year’s Michigan and Mississippi primaries is especially notable because it surpassed then-unprecedented participation in 2008. For example, between the 2000 and 2008 primaries, the estimated youth turnout in Mississippi tripled.  This year, 11,000 more young people voted than in 2008.

In Michigan, the estimated youth turnout of 27% nearly doubled the previous record set in 2008, and the total number of youth participating in primaries nearly doubled, as well: 213,600 to 412,400. Young people made up an estimated 16% of all primary goers in Michigan, a large proportion of voters. In Mississippi, we estimate that 16% of young people turned out in the primaries, making up 13% of all primary voters.


Youth Participation in Republican Primaries Continues to Rise

Estimates of youth participation in the Michigan Democratic and Republican primaries show dramatic increases compared to 2008, the last election cycle when both major parties had competitive presidential nominating contests. Compared to 2008 estimates, youth participation increased by over 100,000 in the Democratic primary and over 70,000 in the Republican primary. The Edison Research exit poll in Michigan estimated that young people made up 19% of Democratic primary voters yesterday, a slightly larger proportion of voters than those 65 and older. Our estimates indicate that youth participation has risen in every single 2016 Republican primary/caucus for which data is available.

In Mississippi, for example, the number of youth estimated to have participated in the Republican primary doubled compared to 2012, and more than tripled when compared to 2008. Young people made up a larger proportion of voters in this year’s Republican primary than they had in the past 20 years.


Youth Propel Sanders in Michigan, Choose Clinton in Mississippi

With a large youth turnout and overwhelming support (81%) for Senator Sanders, young people were at the core of his upset victory in Michigan. Youth contributed an estimated one-third of Sanders’ total votes in the state. Michigan mirrored early majority-white states where Sanders received extremely strong support from young people. Unlike in Michigan, however, young people in Mississippi preferred Secretary Clinton, 62% to 37%. That’s closer to the level of youth support she received in South Carolina, where our follow-up analysis showed that young African Americans supported Clinton with 61% of their votes. These results continue to raise questions about whether Sanders’ appeal extends to youth of color.


On the Republican side, young people divided their support fairly evenly across different candidates in many of the party’s early nominating contests. That was the case again in Michigan, where Donald Trump got 31% of young votes, Kasich 29% (by far his strongest age group), and Cruz 25%. Mississippi, however, was different, as Trump received an estimated 45% of young votes. Along with results from other, more recent contests, this may suggest that young Republican voters are starting to coalesce around Trump at least in the Southern states.

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[1] There were no exit polls conducted in Hawaii and Idaho.

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