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The Youth Vote on Super Tuesday

Explore CIRCLE's data and analysis on youth participation in the Super Tuesday contests, including exclusive estimates of youth voter turnout.

Young people have played an influential role in the competitive 2020 Democratic primaries by working on campaigns, voting, supporting candidates, and more. The Super Tuesday contests brought more diverse youth voices to this process: it was the busiest day of the race, with 15 Democratic primaries. With 14 states and and American Samoa voting, and more than 1,600 delegates at stake. Young people had a significant influence on Super Tuesday and on the race for the Democratic nomination. (Some states are also holding Republican primaries, but there is considerably less information about these contests.) 

Below, you'll find our exclusive youth voter turnout estimates for states where data is available, a summary of our findings, and our Super Tuesday live blog!

State-By-State Voting Data

We'll update the table below as we finalize youth voting data across Super Tuesday states. We should note these are preliminary estimates based on exit polls. You can learn more about our youth turnout estimates for primaries here.

Update, March 5: Now that Maine has been called for Senator Joe Biden, we've added our estimate of youth turnout in Maine: 15%

Update, March 25: With full results from California now reported, we've added our estimate of youth turnout in California: 10%


Summary: Youth Participation Rises, Young Voters Support Sanders

On the busiest day of the Democratic primary, young people made their voices heard across the 14 states voting on Super Tuesday. With contests in large, diverse states like Texas, California, North Carolina, and Virginia, a broader range of youth has now cast votes in the presidential nominating contest. While final data is not currently available for every state—notably California—it is clear that, for the most part, youth voted at higher rates than in comparable years, and that their support for Senator Bernie Sanders continued: he won the youth vote in every state.

Our top Super Tuesday findings include:

  • Youth turnout varied widely between Super Tuesday states: from 5% in Tennessee to 19% in Massachusetts and Minnesota. Turnout can be remarkably different between states (in primaries and other statewide contests), which have different political, civic, and community conditions that shape whether youth engage in elections.
  • Former Vice President Joe Biden had a remarkable night, winning 9 of the 14 Super Tuesday states (with Maine yet to be called as of this writing). He did it despite Bernie Sanders winning the youth vote in every state, though this also varied widely. In Sanders’ home state of Vermont, he won 68% of the youth vote and Biden won 6%. In Alabama, Sanders won 46% of the youth vote and Biden won 30%.
  • The general trend is that youth participation was higher than in comparable election cycles with just one party holding competitive primaries: Democrats in 2004, Republicans in 2012. (The 2016 cycle, when both parties held primaries, is not an apt comparison.) Where data is available, the youth turnout and youth share of the vote were equal or higher in every instance except for Alabama’s youth turnout, which was lower than in 2012.
  • There were Republican primaries in Super Tuesday states, but there is no available data on youth participation.

Youth Participation Rises

Out of the nine 2020 Super Tuesday states for which we have reliable preliminary data, we have comparable data from previous years for seven states. Youth participation was generally higher than in other years with only one party holding a competitive primary (i.e., 2004 and 2012). Five states saw higher turnout compared to at least one of the most recent comparable years, and six saw a higher youth share of voters. Only one state saw lower turnout compared to those years.

We are comparing youth turnout and youth share to 2004 and 2012, as opposed to 2016. We do not have Democratic-primary-only turnout rates from the 2016 primaries. In addition, the proportion of youth in primary electorates is usually lower in one-party-primary years, for several reasons:

  • We know that previous experience voting, as well as contact from parties and campaigns, is incredibly important to youth electoral engagement. Primaries usually target and engage a select group of youth, especially when it’s a closed primary in which only registered party members can vote. As a result, with the exception of smaller states like Iowa and New Hampshire where it is easier to reach a higher proportion of potential young voters, many young people who have not previously voted in a primary or don’t belong to a particular party are not contacted at all during election cycles with only one party holding a competitive primary.
  • When there are two, ongoing competitive primary processes, there are greater levels of  political discussion, information sharing, and campaign recruitment, especially in states that have been consistently Democratic or Republican for long periods of time. These more politically active environments can further drive youth participation.

Young People Supported Sanders

Young people have been consistent in this year’s primaries: both on Super Tuesday and in the previous four contests, in every state for which we have data, a plurality of young voters have supported Bernie Sanders. However, despite losing the youth vote in every state, former Vice President Biden won 9 of the 14 Super Tuesday contests. The level of support for Sanders varied widely from state to state: for example, he won more than 60% of the youth vote in Minnesota, Tennessee, and his home state of Vermont. In Massachusetts (where Senator Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden each won 21% of the youth vote, Sanders won 51%. In Alabama, Sanders won 46% of young voters while Biden had his best performance with young voters: 30%. It is likely that, as in South Carolina last weekend, Joe Biden did much better among Black youth, but reliable vote choice data by age and race/ethnicity is largely not available.

Compared to the 2016 primaries, support for Sanders dropped in most states, though some of that is to be expected since there were five active candidates on Super Tuesday this year, compared to the two-person race in the last cycle. In Texas and Tennessee, however, his youth support was extremely close (within 1-2 percentage points) to what he received in 2016. In Texas, where there is exit poll data by age and race/ethnicity, we found that Sanders won Latino youth by a significant margin: 66% vs. 10% for Biden. This tracks with what we saw in Nevada, where Sanders also received strong support from young Latinos.

We’ll continue to share findings from Super Tuesday in the coming days, particularly when we have final results from California and from Maine, which has not been called as of this writing.


Live Blog

2:00 p.m. - Signing Off!

We're ending our live blog; thanks to all those who followed along throughout Tuesday evening and today! We've posted a summary of our major findings and trends above, and you can read through all of our posts and updates below. We will have additional Super Tuesday data and analyses when Maine (which has yet to be called) and California (where results are still trickling in) are final.

Before we sign off, we want to share our updated chart of cumulative, estimated youth votes so far in the 2020 primaries.


1:25 p.m. - Young Latinos on Super Tuesday

Over at The Conversation, our Research Director Rey Junco writes about the influence of young Latinos on Super Tuesday, especially in Texas:

"Texas was the second-biggest prize on Super Tuesday, and Joe Biden won the state’s primary with 33.7% of the vote. However, the state’s Latino vote went to Bernie Sanders: 45% for Sanders and 24% for Biden. While 44% of all Texas Democrat primary voters are white, 31% are Latino.

The split between Biden and Sanders was even greater among Latinos aged 18 to 29, who preferred Sanders over Biden, 66% versus 10%, and who made up a larger share of voters than young white Texans: 8% versus 5%. Since Biden appears to have won the state by fewer than 4 percentage points, higher participation from Latino youth could have changed the results."

Read more at The Conversation.

11:25 a.m. - Youth Turnout in Alabama, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Texas

We can now estimate youth voter turnout for three additional states: 19% in Massachusetts, 7% in Texas, 6% in Alabama, and 5% in Tennessee. Massachusetts matches Minnesota for the highest youth turnout we have recorded so far in any 2020 Super Tuesday state. Tennessee, at 5%, has the lowers turnout we've recorded so far. These states also highlighted differences in youth vote choice: Alabama was the only state in which Bernie Sanders won a plurality (46%), but not a majority of youth votes, and it gave Joe Biden his best performance with youth (30%). In Massachusetts, Sanders also had one of his lowest levels of youth support (51%), in large part because Elizabeth Warren got 21% of young voters in her home state.


11:00 a.m. - How Do We Calculate Youth Turnout?

Earlier this primary season we explained how we calculate youth voter turnout: our data sources and our confidence in these estimates. From that analysis:

"Starting in 2014, CIRCLE began to use and evaluate how aggregated national voter files compare to the other methods of estimating youth voter turnout (i.e., the Census Current Population Survey [CPS] and CIRCLE’s day-after early-indicator estimate). We’ve done due diligence to understand the differences between these sources in midterms and presidential elections, and we continue to track these differences.

We used exit poll data to calculate CIRCLE’s day-after, preliminary estimates of youth voter turnout in the 2016 primaries, and we examined both data sources by comparing turnout in 19 states where data from both sources was available. In most but not all cases, the day-after, exit poll-based, preliminary estimate was higher by more than 2 percentage points. To some extent, this is to be expected for a number of reasons related to each method, but in the primary data we did not see consistent differences across all of the states. In some states, the estimates between the exit polls and voter file were remarkably similar."

Read more about our turnout estimates here.


10:25 a.m. - Youth on the Ground in California

California was the biggest Super Tuesday state, and a big win for Senator Bernie Sanders, though full results will not be available for some time. In Fresno, CA, youth ages 15-34 made one final push over the weekend to encourage community members to vote on Super Tuesday, reports the Fresno Bee. Much of their canvassing and phone banking efforts were directed at first-generation voters, a large potential voting block in Fresno and other communities throughout the San Joaquin Valley with high populations of farm workers and immigrants. These targeted outreach efforts are vital: in our poll of Texans under 40 last month, we found that campaign outreach in the state had gone mostly to those who have voted in primaries before, with even less outreach to Latinos than to White prospective voters.


9:50 a.m. - Youth Turnout in Virginia

We've just published our estimate of youth turnout in Virginia: 14%. It's the third-highest youth turnout we've seen from Super Tuesday states so far, in a state where Joe Biden won a big victory at the beginning of the night. Bernie Sanders won the youth vote in Virginia, but by a smaller margin than in other states (both on Super Tuesday and so far this primary season). Sanders received 55% of votes from youth, with 26% for Biden. That's the same level of youth support that Biden got last weekend in South Carolina.


9:15 a.m. - Youth Turnout in Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Vermont

We've released our first four estimates of youth turnout: 19% in Minnesota, 18% in Vermont, 11% in North Carolina, and 5.5% in Oklahoma. You can see the data on the table at the top of this page, which we will continue to update throughout the day. Minnesota has historically had high levels of youth participation in recent elections, and nearly 1 in 5 voters in yesterday's primary were young people. Joe Biden won all four states except for Sanders' home state of Vermont. Sanders won the youth vote by a healthy margin in Minnesota, North Carolina, and Vermont; there is no youth vote choice data by age for Oklahoma.


9:00 a.m. - Youth Turnout vs. Youth Share

As we get ready to report data, including youth voter turnout and the youth share of the vote, it's worth remembering what these two numbers measure. Check out the image below from 2016 to understand the difference!

Graphic of Youth Turnout vs. Youth Share


Wednesday, 8:15 a.m. - And We're Back!

Welcome back to CIRCLE's live blog focused on the youth vote on Super Tuesday. Overnight, Texas was called for Joe Biden, while Maine is still too close to call. With results now final (or close to it) in several states, we'll be sharing more data this morning, including our exclusive estimates of youth voting in various Super Tuesday states. Stay tuned!


11:40 p.m. - The Youth Vote in North Carolina and Vermont

North Carolina was the third-biggest Super Tuesday state in terms of delegates awarded (110), and Joe Biden won a comfortable victory with 42% of the vote, with Bernie Sanders in second place at 24% (with 90% of precincts reporting). As in other states this evening, Biden won big despite losing the youth vote: according to the exit polls, Sanders got more than half of all votes from young people, ages 17-29. Vote choice data by age and race is not immediately available.

In Bernie Sanders' home state of Vermont, Sanders defeated Biden, 51% to 22%. According to exit polls, he won even bigger among young people, getting about two-thirds of their votes, while Biden got single-digit support from youth.

We're signing off for now! We'll be back in the morning with more data, analysis, and our exclusive youth turnout estimates for Super Tuesday states.


11:15 p.m. - Polls Close Everywhere: CA and UT Called for Sanders, MA for Biden

The polls have now closed in all Super Tuesday states, and three more contests have been called: Massachusetts for Joe Biden, and Utah and California for Bernie Sanders. With more than 400 delegates, California was the biggest prize of the night; full results from the large, populous state may take some time to come in and give us a comprehensive idea of youth voting in the state. Massachusetts, where Hillary Clinton won in 2016, Bernie Sanders had won the youth vote that year with 65% of young voters.

All states have now been called except Maine and Texas, where Sanders and Biden are currently locked in tight races with large percentages of the vote still outstanding.


10:55 p.m. - The Republican Primaries

While all attention is on the Democratic primaries, Super Tuesday states are also holding Republican primaries. While President Trump technically has several primary opponents, notably former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld, the contests are largely not competitive, with Trump winning across the board. While we will not have data on youth participation in the Republican primaries, it's important to remember that thousands of people are voting in that Party's primaries, including many young people. Youth are not a monolith ideologically, and they can be an important part of Republican electorates, if not in these primaries, then certainly in November's general election.


10:40 p.m. - Growing Voters

There are six Super Tuesday states where 17-year-olds could participate in the Democratic primaries: Colorado, Connecticut, Maine, North Carolina, Utah, Vermont and Virginia. In some of these states, that’s only if a 17-year-old will turn 18 by the November general election. We’ve written a lot recently about the potential to “Grow Voters” by starting to engage youth in conversations about elections and voting before they turn 18. From a theoretical standpoint, based on what research has shown about civic development, even something like participating in a conversations about the primaries can get people thinking about participation earlier in the year: i.e., not waiting until August or September. Additionally, involving young people in decision-making is also an important gesture to young people that shows them they are members of our communities and that their voices matter.


10:30 p.m. - The Youth Vote in Virginia

Virginia was one the first states called on Super Tuesday, and Joe Biden won a decisive victory with 53% of the vote, compared to 23% for Bernie Sanders in second place. As was the case this past weekend in South Carolina, Biden won Virginia despite losing the youth vote: more than half of young people, ages 17-29, voted for Sanders. According to the exit polls (which may be adjusted in the coming hours and days) an even higher percentage of White youth voted for Sanders; vote choice data for young people of other races/ethnicities was not immediately available. Among Virginians of all ages, Biden won a majority of Black voters and a plurality of Latino voters. We'll have an exclusive youth turnout estimate for Virginia tomorrow morning.


10:10 p.m. - Joe Biden Wins Arkansas and Minnesota

Two more states, Arkansas and Minnesota, have been called for Joe Biden, who has now won half of the Super Tuesday states. In 2016, Sanders had won Minnesota and Hillary Clinton won Arkansas, though Sanders won youth in Arkansas by a relatively slim margin (58% youth support). Minnesota frequently ranks highly in terms of youth electoral engagement: it had the highest youth voter turnout rate of any state (43.7%) in the 2018 midterm elections. We'll delve deeper into youth voting in these states as more results come in.


10:00 p.m. - Youth on the Ground in Colorado

Colorado was just called for Bernie Sanders, just the second state he has won so far this evening. Colorado Public Radio was on the ground chronicling the first time in state history that 17-year-olds who will be 18 by the general election are allowed to vote in a primary election. Local efforts  encouraged eligible students to vote as well as preparing young students to be ready when their time comes; youth in Colorado can pre-register at 16. Our research has found that facilitative election laws like these, which make it easier for young people to register to vote and actually cast ballots, strengthen youth engagement in elections.


9:45 p.m. - More States Called: Colorado, Oklahoma, Tennessee

Oklahoma and Tennessee have been called for Joe Biden, and Colorado has been called for Bernie Sanders. In 2016, Hillary Clinton had won Tennessee, while Sanders had won both Colorado and Oklahoma. In fact, Oklahoma was one of Sanders' best states in terms of youth support: he won 82% of young voters in the previous primary. Colorado has a higher proportion of Latino youth than the national average, and Sanders previously showed some strength with Latinos earlier this primary season in Nevada. We look forward to tracking how age and race/ethnicity shaped the results in Colorado.


9:20 p.m. - Demographics and Diversity on Super Tuesday

As we mentioned earlier, the massive diversity among young people and the wide range of experiences that youth have mean that their political positions can differ, sometimes a great deal. While, as an age group, young people trend more progressive than older age groups, there are differences within youth. For example, in the 2016 elections we saw substantial differences by race and when we looked at education among White youth

On Super Tuesday, California and Texas are by far the most diverse states in terms of race and ethnicity. Maine and Vermont are the least racially and ethnically diverse states voting on Super Tuesday. However, there are important nuances: Alabama and North Carolina have much larger proportion of Black/African American youth than we see across the country, and Colorado has a larger proportion of Latino youth than the nation as a whole. 

At the same time, among youth eligible to vote in 2020, youth in Alabama and Arkansas are slightly less likely to have any college experience, and youth in Oklahoma are less likely to have any college experience (61% of 17-28 year olds in 2019, compared to 45% nationally). Youth in California and Colorado who are eligible to vote in 2020 are slightly more likely than youth nationally to have any college experience, and those in Massachusetts and Minnesota are more likely to have any college experience than young citizens nationally (65% and 60% compared to 55% nationally).


9:05 - In The News: Civic Duty As An Excused Absence

As recently reported by U.S. News & World Report, a new law will soon go into effect in Illinois allowing high school students up to two hours to leave class to cast ballots in primary, general, or other relevant elections. Students from two Illinois high schools were the ones to propose the idea to the state senator, Elgie Sims, who ultimately sponsored the bill, which was signed into law by the governor in January. Our research has found that removing barriers to access to voting, like the one these students identified, is a crucial aspect to encouraging youth voter turnout.


8:45 - Joe Biden Wins Alabama

Several other states have finished voting, and another race has been called for Joe Biden: Alabama. Like South Carolina, which Biden won just days ago, Alabama has a high proportion of Black/African American youth. In 2016, Alabama was one of just a handful of states where Bernie Sanders did not win the youth vote. We'll be paying special attention to age/race data in Alabama, which may tell us more about the role that youth of color are playing in the 2020 Democratic primaries.


8:10 p.m. - Youth On The Ground In Texas

The polls have now closed in most of Texas, which awards the second-biggest amount of delegates tonight. Student reporters from the Rice Thresher, Rice University in Houston’s student newspaper, describe the collaborative efforts going on on their campus to boost student turnout in today’s primary election. Since there’s not a polling location on site, student groups and the school’s Office on Governmental Relations are organizing shuttles to voting sites. Campus leaders are also working to disseminate information about voter identification requirements before students make the trip to the polls. Strategies like these are critical to helping students overcome logistical barriers to voting, which our research has found directly inhibits the engagement of many young people, especially those from low-income backgrounds.


8:00 p.m. - Joe Biden Wins North Carolina

Like Virginia and Vermont earlier this evening, North Carolina was called by news organizations moments after the polls closed: Joe Biden is the projected winner. After California and Texas, North Carolina was the third biggest delegate prize of the night with 110. Hillary Clinton had won North Carolina in 2016 but Sanders had won the youth vote with 72%. We'll dig into youth participation in North Carolina once more results and data become available.


7:30 p.m. - Joe Biden, Young Voters, and Youth of Color

Throughout the first three contests (Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada) Joe Biden struggled with young voters: he got less than 5% of votes from youth in IA and NH, and just 10% in Nevada. That changed in South Carolina, where he won more than a quarter of youth votes, buoyed by a strong performance with Black youth.

Biden's performance in South Carolina is a prime example of how youth of color can shape elections. In 2018, young people of color had a substantial impact on several midterm contests, including keeping some Democratic challengers very close and almost helping them win statewide elections in traditionally Republican-dominated states. In 2016, on Super Tuesday, white and Latino youth supported Senator Sanders while Black or African American youth were more likely to support Secretary Clinton. While none of these groups are a monolith, the results in South Carolina indicate a potential shift compared to 2016. With 14 states voting on Super Tuesday, many with racially diverse populations, we'll soon know whether Biden's performance with youth in South Carolina was an exception or the start of a trend. Today, Alabama is the second state to vote that has a very large proportion of Black or African American youth. In the 2016 primary, Clinton won youth 54% vs. 36% over Sanders in Alabama. Several other states voting today have large proportions of youth of color.


7:10 p.m. - Biden Wins Virginia, Sanders Vermont

Moments after the polls closed in the first two states to finish voting, both raced were called by news organizations: Joe Biden won Virginia, and Bernie Sanders won his home state of Vermont. Hillary Clinton had won the Virginia primary in 2016 but Sanders had won the youth vote with 69%. We won't have reliable data on youth participation in those states until the results come in and exit polls are adjusted, and we'll share more about the role young people played in Vermont and Virginia when we have it! The next state where polls close is North Carolina at 7:30 p.m. ET.


7:00 p.m. - Looking Back: Super Tuesday States in 2016

What did youth voting in Super Tuesday states look like in the last Democratic primaries? While we should not directly compare youth voting this year to 2016, when both parties had competitive nominating contests, we can look back for some useful context. The youth share of the vote (the percentage of all votes that were cast by young people) varied: from 12% in Oklahoma to 20% in Texas. Senator Bernie Sanders won the youth vote against Hillary Clinton in all states except for Alabama; he has also won the youth vote in all four pre-Super Tuesday contests so far this year.


6:45 p.m. - In the News: Engaging Young Latinos

Taking a cue from exclusive CIRCLE polling that showed lower rates of electoral outreach to Millennial and Gen Z Latinos in Texas, NBC News reports on the opportunity and imperative of engaging young Latinos in this year’s election cycle. Nevada, where 32% of young people identify as Latino, was the first test this campaign season of what youth turnout would look like in a state with a diverse electorate. Today’s races in California and Texas, where more than half of all eligible Latino voters live, should offer new information on the mobilization of this important voting block.


6:35 p.m. - Youth Voting So Far in 2020

We've been taking a look at young people's participation in the primaries since the first-in-the-nation contest in Iowa. Here's what we've seen so far:

We've also been tracking the estimated number of votes from young people for major candidates in each state so far. Candidates that have since dropped out are grayed out and Mike Bloomberg, who was not on the ballot in the first four states, has no votes yet. We'll update this chart after Super Tuesday!


6:20 p.m. - Electoral Access on Super Tuesday

Our nearly two decades of research on youth electoral engagement have shown that access is incredibly important to youth participation. While many access challenges are local, state policies can also influence the scale of youth participation. For example, in some states, 17-year-olds can vote in the primaries; there are six states voting today where that’s the case! In most states, they can only vote at 17 if they will be 18 by the general election. Additionally, there are two closed primaries today, six semi-closed primaries, and six open primaries. In polling conducted earlier this year, we found that many young people in Iowa and in Texas were not sure whether they  needed to be registered with a party to vote in their state’s primary. Lack of information about the voting process can especially be an issue for young people from low-income backgrounds and other communities who have been marginalized from elections and voting.


Tuesday, 6:00 p.m. - Who's Voting Today?

Fourteen states are voting on Super Tuesday: Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, and Virginia. American Samoa, for which we will not have data, is also caucusing on Super Tuesday. The first polls close in an hour in Virginia and Vermont.