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

Youth Participation in South Carolina Exceeds 2008 High; Young People Prefer Different Candidates than Older Voters

February 28th, 2016
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Overall youth turnout in the 2016 presidential primaries in South Carolina was 18%, as almost 130,000 young people, ages 17-29, went to the polls. In yesterday’s Democratic primary, youth continued to prefer Senator Bernie Sanders, 54% to 46% a far smaller margin of support among youth than he enjoyed in previous 2016 contests. Young Republicans’ vote choice also differed from that of older primary voters, as youth were less likely to support Donald Trump.

Youth turnout in the 2016 SC primaries was 18% of the eligible young citizen population in the state, rivaling the 19% turnout in 2008’s primaries. However, more youth cast ballots in 2016, about 130,000, than in 2008. Youth made up 12% of all primary voters in South Carolina, matching the proportion they made up in 2008. Contrary to 2008, this year more young people cast ballots in the South Carolina Republican primary than in the Democratic contest.

SC Final Table 1

In our previous post about the GOP South Carolina primary, we noted that SC is the fourth state in a row where young people have increased their participation, compared to previous years, in Republican contests. However, youth in South Carolina made up a larger proportion of Democratic primary voters than of Republican primary participants. Youth participation in this year’s Democratic primary in SC was considerably higher than in the 2004 Democratic primary, but not as high as in 2008.

SC Final Table 2Candidate support among youth in both parties differed from the overall results. In the Democratic primary, youth continued to support Senator Sanders over Secretary Hillary Clinton 54% to 46%. Youth votes contributed 31% of Sanders’ total votes and 9% of Clinton’s overall votes in her dramatic win. While Sanders still won more youth support, that support was considerably less decisive than in previous states, where he received more than 80% of youth votes cast. South Carolina has a sizable African American youth population, and upcoming exit poll data analysis will show youth support by race and ethnicity.

Young people in the South Carolina Republican primary supported Donald Trump (26%) less than other Republican primary voters (32%) last weekend. Young people participating in Republican contests in 2016 have not rallied around one candidate in particular, instead spreading their support across several candidates. That was the case in the South Carolina primary, as well.

SC Final Figure 1

SC Final Figure 2

While data is important for understanding youth participation in the South Carolina primary, views from the ground are also critical. CIRCLE gathered several reflections from practitioners working with youth in Nevada and South Carolina that provide insight into education and outreach efforts by educators, media, and nonprofits.

For regular updates in your Inbox about youth and the 2016 election, sign up for CIRCLE’s monthly E-Update here.

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