Two-Thirds of Youth Support Sanders in Nevada Caucus
Young people’s extraordinary level of support for Senator Bernie Sanders helped propel him to a substantial win in the Nevada caucuses that appears to have cemented his status as the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination. According to entrance poll data, Nevada youth (ages 17-29) made up 16% of the electorate in the Democratic caucuses on February 22, and two-thirds of them (65%) caucused for Sanders. According to our estimate, 3% of young Nevadans participated in the Democratic caucuses. A Republican caucus did not take place.
Some key findings and notes:
- Youth turnout in the Nevada caucuses has historically been low. We estimated that it was 5% in 2016, when both parties held caucuses. In 2012, the last election cycle in which only one party (Republicans) had a competitive caucus, youth turnout was 1%.
- The youth share of all caucusgoers in the Democratic contest (16%) was slightly lower than in 2016 (18%) and higher than in 2008 (13%)
- Bernie Sanders, who had won the youth vote decisively in both Iowa and New Hampshire (with about half of youth votes in both states) did even better with young Nevadans (65%). He had also done well among youth in the 2016 Nevada caucus, winning 82% of their votes.
Putting Youth Engagement in Nevada into Perspective
While we should not draw conclusions about youth engagement--or about the state of the Democratic race--from just one state, many observers were looking to Nevada after two very close results in the first two contests. Nevada was also the first state with a more diverse population to vote in this year’s primaries; indeed, more than a third of the 2020 caucus electorate (of all ages) was non-white. Youth in Nevada are even more diverse: just 44% are white, compared to 57% nationally, and 32% of young Nevadans identify as Latino, compared to 21% nationally. Young people in Nevada also have slightly less college experience, and there are fewer college graduates among youth in Nevada than youth nationally, meaning young Nevadans may receive less attention and information from campaigns, which often focus their youth outreach on college campuses .
Like Iowa, Nevada is also one of just a handful of states that hold caucuses instead of primaries. Caucuses can pose further barriers to youth engagement, although this year’s Nevada caucuses included an early voting period meant to facilitate participation. In addition to a longer time commitment and a higher potential to be turned off by a complex and unfamiliar process, the Nevada caucuses were also closed, meaning that only those registered with the Democratic party could participate (or would need to change their party affiliation).
While youth participation in the Nevada caucuses has been consistently low for as long as we have been following it, that has not been the case in other elections. In 2018, youth voter turnout (ages 18-29) in Nevada jumped 20 percentage points compared to 2014, and teenage voters (ages 18-19) in the state actually had a higher turnout rate than the entire under-30 group: 31% vs. 29%—the only state in which that occurred. This may indicate that there’s something to learn from what’s occurred in Nevada recently in order to “grow voters,” and that it may be something in particularly inaccessible about the caucuses that leads to lower youth turnout, since young people have recently shown up in other elections.
Young Voters Remain a Key Constituency for Sanders
According to the entrance polls conducted by Edison Research, about two-thirds of young Nevadans preferred Bernie Sanders, who had more than a 50-point lead over youth’s second choice, former Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg (11%). No other candidate reached double-digit support among youth, though former Vice President Biden was close at (9%). While turnout was low, the extent to which youth consolidated their support for Sanders in Nevada certainly contributed to his victory in the caucuses by a wide margin.
As in Iowa and New Hampshire, candidates who did especially poorly among young people in Nevada also performed poorly overall. Senator Elizabeth Warren got just 7% of young voters and came in fourth in the state. Senator Amy Klobuchar, who was looking to gain momentum after a surprise third-place finish in New Hampshire, got just 2% of youth votes in Nevada and, with 96% reporting, was in sixth place in state delegate equivalents.
Youth Make Up 1 in 6 Caucusgoers
We estimate that 3% of young people voted in the Nevada caucuses. While low, this level of youth participation is in line with recent caucuses in Nevada, which tends to have one of the lowest youth turnout rates in the presidential candidate selection process. That said, this year’s participation level tripled the youth turnout from 2012, the last time only one party had a competitive caucus, when we estimated that only 1% voted. In all three states that have voted so far, youth turnout has been higher (if only slightly) than in the most recent comparable (single-party primary) year. You can read more about our turnout estimates here.
Compared to the two most recent Democratic contests in the state to choose a presidential candidate, the youth share of caucusgoers in 2020 (16%) was slightly lower than in 2016, when young people made up 18% of all participants. However, it was higher than in 2008 (13%), when young people were an important constituency for then-candidate Barack Obama. Given their decisive vote choice this year, the fact that one-in-six 2020 caucusgoers were young people certainly helped Bernie Sanders achieve a commanding victory.
 The estimates of youth share of voters and youth vote choice in this post are from Edison Research entrance polls in Nevada, and CIRCLE estimates of youth voter turnout are based on vote tallies as reported by the New York Times and NBC News (at 96% of precincts reporting), Census population data, and the estimated of youth share of voters.
Authors: Abby Kiesa, Rey Junco, Alberto Medina