With the first caucuses of the presidential election year imminent, it’s worth asking: Who will turn out among young voters in Iowa and subsequent states? And could their choices help swing the final result to the underdogs instead of the presumed front-runners?
Young Iowans represent an unusual voter bloc: They are more likely to be white and married than their similarly aged peers in other states, and they’re also significantly less likely to have a foreign-born parent—3.5 percent compared to over 20 percent nationally, according to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) at Tufts University. As The Guardian notes, there’s another reason why the polls could see an uptick in younger Iowa voters:
On the Democratic side, students will be the key demographic to watch. This will be the first Iowa caucus in over a decade that has taken place when colleges and universities are in session. If Bernie Sanders can successfully organize and turn out young people across the state, it could give him an edge in several key counties across the state.
Mother Jones concluded that Iowa’s small and youthful Latino demographic—about 5.6 percent of the population, with a median age of 22—could be an important factor in the state’s caucuses. This is the first time a targeted voter campaign has focused on them, said the campaign’s lead organizer Joe Henry, a board member of the League of United Latin American Citizens. From Mother Jones:
“We have young people coming of age every year now, turning 18, getting registered to vote,” Henry said. “We are reaching a significant point in time where we have enough registered voters where we can participate in the caucuses in a significant way. Never before have we been able to do this.”
The youth vote—ages 18 to 29—can indeed be a tipping point. CIRCLE’s research found young voters made a difference in 2014 for U.S. Senate races in several states. Take Louisiana, for example, from CIRCLE’s report:
Young voters may have had the biggest impact in Louisiana, where they propelled Democrat Mary Landrieu (42%) to a runoff against Republican Bill Cassidy (41%). Young people cast 11% of the votes in that election and supported Landrieu to the tune of 50%, which was by far her best performance among any age group.
While Landrieu lost that run-off, the younger voters were still a crucial voice in the process, CIRCLE concluded.
These figures are a good reminder that politics is, indeed, local. A candidate might be deemed the front-runner in a national poll but that’s not always reflective of how they’ll fare with local voters. Effective grassroots efforts to reach the youth vote could work in favor of an otherwise trailing candidate and end up turning the tide, says Abby Kiesa, CIRCLE’s youth coordinator and researcher. At the same time, it will take more than charisma to win them over, she says.
“When we look at how young people vote, they are much more likely to say the issues matter more to them than the individual candidate’s characteristics,” Kiesa told me.