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Youth Voting in the 2016 Primaries

Explore all our analyses of youth turnout and vote choice in the Democratic and Republican 2016 primaries.

Throughout the 2016 primaries, CIRCLE conducted state-by-state analyses of youth voting in both parties’ nominating contests. As this month’s Republican and Democratic conventions officially bring the primary season to a close, this fact sheet revisits the day-after youth turnout estimates we calculated for each state contest and expands on the major trend we have highlighted throughout: a considerable increase in young people’s electoral participation compared to 2008, the last year both parties had competitive primaries.

Our main takeaways include:

  • Youth Participation Increased in 2016: In 17 of the 24 states for which we have both 2008 and 2016 estimates, the percentage of young people (ages 17-29) eligible voters who cast a ballot in 2016 was equal to or greater than in 2008.
  • GOP Youth Drove the Increase: In every single one of the 21 states for which we can make the comparison, as many or more youth votes were cast in the 2016 Republican primaries or caucuses than in the 2008 contests. In contrast, on the Democratic side, a majority of states for which we have data experienced a drop in youth voting.
  • However, More Young People Overall Voted in Democratic Primaries: In 18 of the 26 states for which we could produce 2016 estimates, the number of youth votes cast in Democratic contests exceeded those for the GOP. In six states, young Democratic voters outnumbered young Republicans at the ballot box by more than 2-to-1.

As we consider the potential for young people to continue having an impact this November, in both the presidential and in congressional races, these data are a useful guide to where young voters have been participating in this election cycle—and need continued outreach so that they remain engaged through November—and where even more effort is needed to reach and encourage young people to participate in the democratic process.

Individual State Data and Analyses

Immediately following several key state's (or group of states') primary or caucus, we published youth turnout estimates and/or youth vote choice data—depending on the availability of exit poll data and other sources of information. Explore these analyses below:

Iowa - February 1

Overall Youth Turnout 11%; Record Participation in Republican Caucus; Overwhelming Support for Sanders Kept Democratic Caucus Close

Eleven percent of young, eligible Iowa citizens participated in last night’s caucuses, according to CIRCLE estimates. Young Democratic caucus-goers showed overwhelming support for Senator Bernie Sanders over Secretary Hillary Clinton, 84% to 14%. Republican caucus winner Senator Ted Cruz drew 26% of the support from young Republican caucus-goers, followed by four other Republican candidates in double-digits.

While data is important for understanding youth participation in the Iowa caucuses, views from the ground are also critical. CIRCLE gathered several reflections from practitioners working with youth in Iowa that provide insight into what efforts—from educators, media and nonprofits—looked like.

High Participation by Young Iowans

Young people made up 15% of total caucus-goers last night for a total estimate of 53,000 young people taking part in the first-in-the-nation ritual. As a result, youth participation in the 2016 caucuses appears to be high, but not higher than that of the 2008 caucuses.

Comparisons to past years must be made with caution, because turnout is affected by the date of the caucuses and by the nature of the Democratic and Republican presidential campaigns, which are different in every cycle. For example, in 2008 both the Republicans and Democrats held caucuses, but in 2012 only the Republicans held a competitive caucus.

Youth Key to Close Democratic Caucus Results, Spread Support Evenly in Republican Caucuses

Young people appear to be at least one of the keys to the very close Democratic results in Iowa. Entrance polls suggest that 84% of young people supported Senator Sanders, a stark contrast to the 65-and-over group, just 26% of whom supported him.

Youth support in the Republican caucuses is distributed across several candidates with no one candidate reaching a plurality, suggesting that all the candidates have more to do to rally young people. According to entrance polls, Senator Ted Cruz drew 26% of the support from young Republican caucus-goers, followed by Senator Rubio (23%), Donald Trump (20%), Senator Paul (14%) and Dr. Carson (11%). Compared to older caucus-goers, young Republicans were less likely to support Mr. Trump, and more likely to support Senator Paul. However, Senator Rand Paul received far less support from youth than his father, former Rep. Ron Paul, who received 48% of youth support in 2012.

Additional Analysis:

New Hampshire - February 9

Record-Breaking Youth Participation in Republican Caucus Drives High Overall Turnout

New Hampshire youth have historically responded to the attention paid to their state with high turnout, and 2016 was no different. CIRCLE estimates that 43% of young people, ages 18-29, in New Hampshire participated in yesterday’s primary. Young people helped both of the primary winners, preferring them over other candidates. In the case of Senator Bernie Sanders, youth support continued to be as high as in the Iowa caucuses (83% in NH, 84% in IA), while youth participating in the Republican primary were most likely to support winner Donald Trump (37%)

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

High Participation by Young People in New Hampshire

According to the exit polls, young people made up 17% of primary voters (19% of Democratic primary and 15% of Republican primary) in 2016, a total estimate of over 88,000 young people. This represents the largest number of young people participating in the primaries, and the largest proportion of the electorate, in the past 20 years of New Hampshire primaries. The estimated turnout among youth of 43% ties the tremendous turnout in 2008, and both are far above another comparable primary in 2000, which recorded a 28% turnout. It’s important to remember that New Hampshire’s primary is semi-open, and any unaffiliated registered voter can participate. That may be especially critical for young people, who have eschewed party affiliation nationally.

Republican Youth Set Another Record, Raise Overall Youth Turnout

More New Hampshire youth participated in yesterday’s Democratic primary than in the Republican primary. However, more youth participated in this New Hampshire Republican primary than any other year since 1996. After the Iowa caucuses, this is the second 2016 Republican contest in a row to set a youth turnout record. Compared to the 2008 election cycle, when both major parties had a competitive primary, the number of youth voting in the Republican primary went up (33,014 in 2008 to 42,616 in 2016), while Democratic youth turnout went down (51,218 in 2008 to 46,895 in 2016).

Young People Boost Sanders and Trump Wins

Young people participating in the New Hampshire Democratic primary were far more likely than other age groups to support Senator Sanders: 83% of young voters versus 60% of all voters. While youth made up almost one-fifth of yesterday’s Democratic primary voters, over a quarter of Sanders’ votes came from young people. Youth support for Sanders exceeded the youth support for then-Senator Obama in 2008. The only age cohort that preferred Secretary Clinton yesterday was those 65 and over. On the Democratic side in 2008, 60% of the youngest cohort (18 to 24-year-olds) supported then-Senator Obama, while 25 to 29-year olds roughly split their support between then-Senators Obama and Clinton (35% to 37%).

By a small margin, youth were more likely than older voters to support Trump in yesterday’s Republican primary: 37% among young voters versus 35% among all voters. That said, as in Iowa, a plurality of youth did not coalesce around one candidate; five candidates, including Trump, received double-digit support. That contrasts with the New Hampshire primary in 2012, when youth favored Ron Paul over eventual nominee Mitt Romney, 46% to 26%.

South Carolina - February 20 (R) & February 27 (D)

High Youth Turnout in South Carolina; Young People Choose Differently than Older Voters

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 the 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 South Carolina 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.  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 the state was considerably higher than in the 2004 Democratic primary, but not as high as in 2008.

Both Parties' Primary Winners "Lost" the Youth Vote 

In South Carolina, close to 74,000 young people participated in the 2016 Republican primary, far exceeding 2008 and 2012. Youth who participated in the South Carolina Republican primary were most likely among all age groups to support Senator Ted Cruz (28%), making youth the only age group among which primary-winner Donald Trump did not have the most support. However, Trump was not far behind Cruz with 26% of youth votes, and Senator Marco Rubio not far behind him (22%).

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.

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.

Additional Data and Analysis:

Nevada - February 20 (D) & February 23 (R)

Young Republicans in Nevada Caucus in Record Numbers; Young Democrats Strongly Back Sanders

Overall youth turnout in the Nevada caucuses, based on our estimates, is the same as it was in 2008: 5% of young people in the state. The youth share of the Nevada caucus electorate rose slightly to 13%, buoyed by the increase in youth share of voters in the Democratic caucuses.

Earlier this month, our estimates suggested that Democratic youth in Nevada rivaled their 2008 turnout and made up a larger share of caucus-goers than in that previous competitive contest.

For the fourth state in a row, Republican youth turned out in record numbers, with their estimated participation in the Nevada caucuses not just exceeding 2008, but doubling youth turnout in 2012. We estimate that more than 5,200 youth participated in the Republican caucuses, compared to 2,600 in 2012 and 4,800 in 2008.

When it comes to youth participation, 2016 is so far looking a lot like 2008. We know that competitive elections and all the press coverage that comes with them, along with many other factors, impact youth turnout. It appears the 2016 races are further evidencing that narrative. In fact, CIRCLE’s estimates of youth votes cast in early Republican contests suggest that, so far, more Republican-identifying youth have participated in 2016 contests than previous years.

Youth are Less Keen on Trump, More Keen on Sanders

Young Republican caucus-goers departed significantly from their elders by not supporting Donald Trump to the same degree. Among all voters, 46% reported supporting Trump in the entrance poll, but only 31% of young people reported the same. Young people were most likely to support Senator Marco Rubio (37%), while 24% of all voters did so. Young people were by far Senator Rubio’s strongest age group.

In Nevada’s Democratic caucus, young people made up a larger proportion of voters (18%) than in the 2008 caucus (13%). Young Democratic caucus goers (ages 17-29) showed overwhelming support for Senator Bernie Sanders over Secretary Hillary Clinton (82% to 14%), by far Sanders’ most supportive age group. This represents the third contest in a row that Sanders’ youth support has exceeded 80 percent.

While data is important for understanding youth participation, CIRCLE gathered several reflections from practitioners working with youth in Nevada and other states that provide insight into education and outreach efforts by educators, media, and nonprofits.

Super Tuesday - March 1 (AL,AK,AR,CO,GA,MA,MN,OK,TN,TX,VT,VA)

High Youth Turnout On Super Tuesday Rivals Impressive 2008 Participation

An estimated 1.8 million young people participated in Super Tuesday’s primaries and caucuses, almost a million youth in the Democratic contests and around 900,000 in the Republican contests. With a number of strong showings across many states, young people continued this year’s trend of high participation that rivals the numbers from 2008, when youth turnout in some cases tripled that of previous years. Young Republican participation, especially, has increased compared to 2008, sometimes by dramatic amounts. And in both parties young people are still not rallying around the frontrunners.

Estimated youth turnout was high in Super Tuesday states, exceeding or rivaling turnout in 2008. This is notable because youth turnout in the 2008 primaries and caucuses almost tripled across the board compared to 2000, the previous year with competitive nominating contests in both parties.

Compared to 2008, the estimated youth turnout went up in Alabama, Oklahoma, Virginia, and Arkansas—rising by about 5 percentage points in the latter. We estimate that youth turnout in Senator Bernie Sanders’ home state of Vermont was 27%, the highest of any Super Tuesday contest, but data is unavailable to compare that to 2008.

Young voters made up a larger proportion of the Democratic primary electorate than in 2008. In Texas, for example, the exit poll estimates that youth made up 20% of Democratic primary voters. While the overall number of young participants in Democratic contests went down since 2008, the data suggest the youth drop off may not have been as high as that of older voters.

Meanwhile, the estimated number of youth who voted in Republican contests increased compared to 2008. In some states, the increase was substantial. In Texas, 171,000 youth participated in 2008 and 281,000 in 2016. In Virginia, where more youth supported Senator Rubio than the state’s winner, Donald Trump, youth participation went from an estimated 53,000 in 2008, to 123,000 in 2016.

Young People Still Not Rallying Around the Frontrunners

As in previous contests, young people participating in the Super Tuesday Republican primaries were not as supportive of Donald Trump as older voters. In three states—Arkansas, Texas (where Senator Cruz won), and Virginia—young voters supported Rubio or Cruz more strongly than Trump. In Alabama and Georgia, youth did support Trump more than any other candidate, but by the smallest margin of any age group. Young people supported Trump at about the same level as the overall electorate in only two of yesterday’s primaries (Arkansas and Tennessee). Young people were often Senator Rubio’s strongest supporters, but even with high youth participation, older voters made up a larger proportion of the Republican electorate. (Data is unavailable for MA, OK, and TX).

On the Democratic side, young people generally continued to support Senator Sanders, but to varying degrees. In Oklahoma and Vermont, both of which Sanders won, he received a decisive 80+ percent of the youth vote. He garnered about two-thirds of youth votes in five states that he lost: Arkansas, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia. In Georgia Sanders only received 55% of the youth vote, and he lost young voters in Alabama. Notably, among Super Tuesday states, Georgia and Alabama have the highest proportion of African American youth (36% and 32%, respectively). Disaggregating youth vote choice by race and ethnicity can often highlight large differences; keep an eye out for more detailed CIRCLE analysis of the youth vote on Super Tuesday.


While data is important for understanding youth participation related to Super Tuesday, views from the ground are also critical. CIRCLE gathered several reflections from practitioners working with youth in Super Tuesday states that provide insight into education and outreach efforts by youth, educators, and nonprofits.

Additional Data and Analysis:

Michigan - March 8

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

The estimated youth turnout of 27% across both parties' Michigan primaries 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. On the Democratic side, significant support from young people helped propel Sanders to his surprising victory in the state.

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, 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.

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 - March 8

High Youth Turnout Overall; Clinton Wins the Youth Vote

In Mississippi, increased participation by young people in the Republican primary contributed to overall youth participation surpassing the previous high in 2008. We estimate that 16% of young people turned out in the primaries, making up 13% of all primary voters. Record-high youth turnout in this year’s 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.

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.

As for vote choice, on the Democratic side, 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, unlike in some earlier states in this year's primary, Donald Trump "won" young people with an estimated 45% of the youth vote. 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.

Florida, Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio - March 15

Record-Breaking Youth Turnout Continues; Clinton and Trump Still Lagging with Young Voters

Young people continued to make their mark on this primary season during the all-important March 15 contests, breaking the previous youth turnout records (set in 2008) in every state except Ohio, often by substantial margins. Youth also had an impact by choosing differently than older voters. They preferred Senator Sanders in all five states. On the Republican side, they chose three different candidates: Senator Cruz in Missouri and North Carolina, Governor Kasich in Ohio, and Donald Trump in Florida and Illinois. The frontrunners have yet to decisively win over youth this election season.

While data is important for understanding youth participation on this “second Super Tuesday,” views from the ground are also critical. CIRCLE gathered several reflections from practitioners working with youth that provide insight into education and outreach efforts by educators, media, and nonprofits.

Youth turnout was high across the board on Tuesday, surpassing previous records by 6 or more percentage points—a large increase—in Illinois, Missouri, and North Carolina. While turnout appears to be high across all age groups this primary season, the increase in youth participation has been especially notable. Young voters made up a larger share of all voters than in 2008 in Florida, Illinois, and North Carolina, and equaled the previous mark in Missouri. Ohio was the only state where youth participation, both in terms of turnout and share of all voters, actually went down.

On the Democratic side, the number of youth who voted in the primaries went up significantly in Florida and Illinois since 2008, but went down in Missouri, North Carolina, and Ohio.  On the other hand, in every state for which we have data (i.e., except for North Carolina), more youth than ever cast ballots in the Republican primaries. The increase was very large in all cases; the number of young Republican primary voters surpassed previous records by at least 45,000 in Missouri and by over 113,000 in Ohio over the previous record.

What Happened in Each State?


An estimated half a million votes were cast by young Floridians this year, who nearly doubled their participation from 2008. In the Democratic primary, almost two-thirds of youth supported Senator Sanders, while all other age groups supported Secretary Clinton by a 2 to 1 margin or greater. In the Republican primary, youth cast a plurality of their votes for Donald Trump (36%), but their support was much weaker than that of the general electorate, almost of half of whom supported him (46%).

CIRCLE has ranked Florida (along with North Carolina, Ohio and Illinois) high in our Youth Electoral Significance Index of where young people are likely to have a disproportionate impact on 2016 election results.


In a state where young people led heated protests against Donald Trump days before the election, and where the ballot featured contested races for Attorney General and other key state and local positions, Illinois youth had tremendous participation levels in both primaries with an overall turnout of 26%, well above the previous record of 18% in 2008.

Young Republicans split their votes fairly evenly between all four remaining candidates.  Although Mr. Trump won the youth vote by a narrow margin (32%, with Cruz a close second at 29%), as in Florida, he received less support from youth that from voters aged 45 and older. Democratic youth participated in a number that far exceeds their participation in 2008 when youth supported Barack Obama, then a sitting Senator in Illinois, over Secretary Clinton, who was born in the state. This time, 86% of youth supported Sanders, a Senator from Vermont. Their votes no doubt kept the Democratic primary in Illinois close.


Missouri youth had a strong showing in the Republican primary, and young voters made a strong statement by choosing Senator Cruz well above Trump, 48% to 39%. In the Democratic primary, Sanders once again received overwhelming youth support: 78%. The youth vote in both parties certainly kept each contest extremely close; as of the morning after the primary, both races were too close to call.

North Carolina

In North Carolina, almost three-quarters (72%) of Democratic youth supported Sanders, which may indicate that his appeal among youth in more diverse Southern states may be improving.  Other age groups overwhelmingly voted for Secretary Clinton, however, leading to her decisive victory there. On the Republican side, youth gave the most decisive support for Senator Cruz at 43%, While Trump received 30%.


Young Republicans in Ohio turned out in a large numbers, leading to greater participation in that party’s primary than on the Democratic side. As with older voters, young Republicans’ top pick was Ohio Governor Kasich, who won 48% of the youth vote, followed by Donald Trump, who won just 24% of young voters. Ohioan youth supported Senator Sanders 81% to 19%, but their turnout was well below that of 2008, and their impact was limited in this primary race.

It is worth nothing that the Ohio Secretary of State’s Office issued a letter to 17-year-olds who were eligible to vote in the primaries in the past (because they would be 18 by the date of general election), stating that they would not be able to vote in this year’s primary.  Although the judge eventually ruled that these 17-year-olds can vote in Ohio’s open primaries, the confusion over eligibility may have affected the turnout among 17-year-olds. In fact, Ohio was the only one among the March 15 primary states where the participation declined since 2008.

The results from this latest and critical round of primaries continue to demonstrate that young people are active, and ideologically diverse and complex. Particularly striking has been this year’s trend of high participation among young Republicans; for example, though in 2008 the number of young voters in the Missouri and Ohio Democratic primaries was higher than in the Republican primaries in this year, greater numbers of youth in those states voted in the Republican primaries than in the Democratic primaries. These figures are not indicative of how young people will vote in the general election but they do show young Republicans’ sense of urgency to participate in order to voice their opinions.

Wisconsin - April 5

One Third of Youth Voted in the Wisconsin Primaries

An estimated one in three young voters, ages 18-29, cast a ballot in yesterday’s Wisconsin primaries, contributing to strong overall turnout in a state with competitive races and a tradition of strong civic habits. Youth participation in the Republican primary more than doubled the previous record, set in 2008, and youth supported the state’s winner—Senator Cruz—more than his competitors. On the Democratic side, young people overwhelmingly supported Senator Bernie Sanders as many (but not all) have throughout the primary season and helped propel him to a win in the state, as a quarter of his total votes came from youth.

Youth participation in the Wisconsin primaries exceeded previous highs, both in terms of turnout and total number of youth who cast ballots. An estimated 33% of young people participated and almost three hundred thousand young people voted in the primaries, estimates suggest. This estimated rate of participation is the second highest we have seen for a state primary contest in 2016, following New Hampshire’s estimated 43%. Although the youth participation in Wisconsin primaries increased significantly, the overall youth share of voters was 14%, one percentage point lower than in 2008, indicating that  turnout rose for voters of all ages, as well.

Youth-Heavy and Campus-Heavy Counties Helped Presidential Primary Winners

Estimated participation in both the Democratic and Republican primaries in Wisconsin increased compared to 2008. According to the exit poll, young people supported the eventual state winners in both parties. The overall levels of support for each of these winners from all voters varied from county to county and CIRCLE conducted an analysis of the relationship between youth-related characteristics of a county and the levels of overall candidate support.

Young people broke their participation record in the Republican contest. We estimate that almost 110,000 youth participated in the Wisconsin Republican primary, more than doubling the 2008 estimate of 44,000 youth. However, the youth share of voters in that primary (10%) remained similar to previous years. This indicates that Republican youth participation rose alongside overall participation—almost 1.1 million total votes have been counted so far in the 2016 Wisconsin Republican primary, compared to around 410,000 in 2008.

Young people who participated in the Republican primary were most likely to support Senator Cruz (44%), as were all age groups. However, young people were slightly less likely than older voters to support Cruz, and more likely to support Governor Kasich (21%), than all Republican primary voters (14%).

Donald Trump struggles with youth, as exhibited by a lack of strong support in many states, and lower levels of support in college-heavy counties in Wisconsin are likely to contribute to that.  Our analysis shows that Cruz and Kasich won more support in counties where there were larger proportion of young people and large college enrollment relative to the size of the county adult population.

Both total youth participation and the youth share of voters in the Wisconsin Democratic primary rose compared to previous years. As in other Midwestern states this year, Senator Sanders won a large majority of youth votes in Wisconsin: 82%. An estimated 153,000 young people cast ballots for Sanders, making up 28% of his total votes and exceeding his margin of victory in the state.

Once again, Sanders likely benefited especially from support from young voters in college-heavy counties. This was reflected in the percentage of voters supporting each candidate by county characteristics. Support for Sanders was highest in college-heavy counties and in places where a lot of young people live.

Senator Sanders’ margin of victory, by vote counts and percentage points, was also far larger in college-heavy and youth-heavy counties. Most of the counties with especially heavy college presence were home to campuses in the University of Wisconsin system.

The high youth participation in Wisconsin may be a preview of the impact young people will have in the general election. Wisconsin ranks sixth in our Youth Electoral Significance Index for both the presidential and Senate contests this Fall.

New York - April 19

Record-Breaking Youth Turnout in New York Fueled by Voting in Democratic Primary

Estimated youth voter turnout in the New York primary was 14%, surpassing the previous record of 12% set in 2000 and matched in 2008. Overall, an estimated 408,000 young people cast ballots in New York, making up an estimated 15% of all voters in the state primary.

New York was the first state this election season in which Republican youth participation did not set a new record of votes cast, and young people made up 10% of New York Republican primary voters. However, youth did turn out in record-breaking numbers for the Democratic primary, and young people made up a larger proportion of all voters in that contest (18%) than they have in recent primary years.

An estimated 322,000 young people cast ballots in the New York Democratic primary, up from 258,000 in 2008.

As in previous states this primary season, young people, ages 18-29, as a whole were more likely to support Senator Sanders (65%) than Secretary Clinton (35%). However, unlike in some previous states where Senator Sanders had overwhelming support from all youth under 30, in New York he fared much better with 18 to 24-year-olds, garnering 81% of their votes, than with 25 to 29-year-olds, who gave him just 53% support.

On the Republican side, youth participation in New York exceeded that of 2008, but did not match the previous record set in 2000. An estimated 86,000 young people participated in yesterday’s New York Republican primary, making up about 10% of all voters, according to the Edison Research exit poll. This exit poll, however, did not have a large enough youth sample to report out on how young people divided their support among the presidential candidates in the Republican primary.

Connecticut, Maryland, Pennsylvania - April 26

High Youth Turnout in MD and CT; Youth Still Lukewarm on Frontrunners

The pattern of high youth participation in the 2016 primaries continued yesterday, especially in Connecticut and Maryland, while youth participation may have decreased in the Pennsylvania Democratic primary. Different patterns of youth voting played out in each of the three states, but one dynamic was consistent among all three: young people continue to favor the party frontrunners to a lesser degree than older voters.

What Happened in Each State?


The estimated youth turnout in Connecticut matched the previous record of 12% set in 2008. However, the number of young people who cast their ballot increased, as did the youth share of all voters: from 10% in 2008, to 12% in 2016. Youth participation was driven primarily by young Democratic primary voters; overall, 49,000 young Democrats went to the polls, compared to 17,000 young Republicans.

On the Democratic side, young voters preferred Senator Sanders over Secretary Clinton, 83% to 17%, according to the Edison Research exit poll. Sanders also won the majority of support of 30-44 year olds but not the oldest two age groups. As in previous races this election season, extremely strong youth support kept the contest closer and may have led to Sanders receiving more delegates. On the Republican side, youth participation matched that of 2008, but the sample size of young voters in the exit poll was too small to estimate candidate support.


In Maryland, an estimated 18% of youth, ages 17-29, participated in yesterday’s primary, meaning over 170,000 young people cast ballots. Both the turnout and vote count were higher than in 2008.

The state saw growth in youth participation in both party primaries, but the increase was more dramatic in the Republican primary. An estimated 52,000 young people cast their ballots in that contest, more than doubled the estimate for 2012 (19,000) and surpassing the previous record (49,000) from 2000.

Young people in the Republican primary split their votes across the three candidates almost equally. Donald Trump received 33% of youth votes in Maryland, while Senator Cruz received 32% and Governor Kasich 31%.

The Democratic primary was different, however, as Senator Sanders received 68% of youth support, which was the only age group he won in the state. Sanders’ loss with voters in their 30s and his relatively modest win with young people in Maryland—compared to his 70%-80% support from youth in other contests—may be due to the state’s demographics. African Americans made up almost half of voters (46%) in Maryland’s Democratic primary, and young African Americans have shown more support for Secretary Clinton than other youth so far this year.


We estimate that over 350,000 youth in Pennsylvania participated in yesterday’s primaries, (18% of the young citizen population in the state), making up 11% of all voters. Almost 200,000 young people participated in the Democratic primary, less than in 2008, while more than 150,000 participated in the Republican contest. Unlike in Maryland, where twice as many young Democrats voted than young Republicans, and in Connecticut, where three times as many youth voted in the Democratic than in the Republican contest, in Pennsylvania the number of youth votes were more evenly distributed between both parties.

Young people strongly preferred Senator Sanders in the Democratic primary. In the Republican contest, Donald Trump won 52% of the youth vote, his highest total in any state so far, even though young people still supported him less than older voters.

A perennial general election battleground, Pennsylvania is one of the states to watch this November according to our Youth Electoral Significance Index (YESI), which ranks the top-10 states and congressional districts where young people can potentially have a decisive impact in the 2016 election. Pennsylvania ranks 2nd in our YESI for the Senate race there, and 2nd for the presidential contest.

Indiana - May 3

25% of Young People Voted in Indiana Primaries

Estimated youth voter turnout in yesterday’s Indiana primaries was 25%. Overall, an estimated 247,000 young people (17-to-29 years old) cast ballots in Indiana, making up an estimated 14% of all voters.

More youth participated in the Republican primary than the Democratic primary. This was also the case in Ohio and other historically Republican states such as Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee and Missouri. The implications of such dynamics for the general election are not yet clear. For example, , more youth voted in 2008 than in 2016 in the Indiana Democratic primary, and then-Senator Obama went on to win the state in the general election.

Comparable data do not exist for previous presidential years for both parties combined. However, with an estimated one-quarter of Indiana youth casting a ballot, this represents a turnout estimate on the higher end for this primary cycle. The estimate exceeds many states, including Maryland (18%), Florida (17%) and New York (14%); is similar to Michigan (27%), Illinois (26%) and Missouri (27%); and is surpassed by New Hampshire (43%) and Wisconsin (33%).

Youth in the Democratic Primary

An estimated 115,000 young people in Indiana participated in its state Democratic primary. Senator Bernie Sanders captured a large majority (74%) of these voters. As in New York, 18-24 and 25 to 29-year-olds are estimated to have supported Senator Sanders at different levels, with the younger group being more supportive of him (81% vs. 64%). While this support more than likely helped Senator Sanders edge out Secretary Hillary Clinton, the total number of young voters represents a significant drop from the estimated number of youth who participated in the 2008 Indiana Democratic primary (213,000). However, because the overall number of Democratic voters decreased, the youth share of voters in Indiana (18%) actually increased slightly over 2008 (17%).

Young people made up a larger portion of the Indiana Democratic primary electorate than voters 65 and over (18% of voters vs. 16%). Again, the youth vote made up a much larger portion of votes for Senator Sanders than for Secretary Clinton. While young people clearly helped Senator Sanders win the state, this drop in estimated youth votes compared to 2008 reemphasizes the question of whether and how the Clinton campaign can engage young Sanders supporters.

Youth in the Republican Primary

Overall, more votes were cast in the Indiana Republican primary than the Democratic primary. As a result, while young voters made up a smaller share of the Indiana Republican primary electorate (12%), more youth were estimated to have participated (133,000).

Indiana marked the third state in which Donald Trump has received as high a proportion of young votes in a Republican primary, in addition to Pennsylvania (52%) and Mississippi (45%).  Mr. Trump received an estimated 46% of young votes, while Senator Ted Cruz garnered 39% and Governor John Kasich received 11%. As has been the case in most other states (for which exit poll  data are available), youth were not as supportive of Mr. Trump as older age groups. The youngest voters, those aged 17-24 supported him at a rate of 43%, the lowest of any age group, and supported Senator Cruz at 41%.

West Virginia - May 10

Youth Turnout High in West Virginia as Young Republicans Turn to Trump

Although the two major party nominees for president are all but confirmed, young people still want a voice in the matter. In yesterday’s West Virginia primaries, an estimated 25% of the state’s young people cast ballots, many for Senator Bernie Sanders, who won the state but still trails Secretary Hillary Clinton by a substantial margin in the delegate count.

Comparable youth participation data for both parties combined from previous presidential election cycles is not available. However, the estimated West Virginia youth turnout is on the higher end so far this year, surpassing states like Iowa (11%), Florida (17%), and Virginia (18%), while trailing New Hampshire (43%) and Wisconsin (33%).

Almost the same estimated number of youth cast ballots in the Democratic and Republican primaries in West Virginia (35,000 and 33,000, respectively). Young people made up 17% of all voters in the Republican primary, one of the highest youth shares in Republican primaries this cycle, and equivalent to the proportion of primary voters aged 65-and-over. 

Like the majority of youth throughout the primaries, young people who cast ballots in the West Virginia Democratic primary continued to support Senator Sanders far more than the now presumptive Democratic nominee, Secretary Clinton. Young voters, ages 17-29, favored Senator Sanders 70% to 25%, far exceeding his overall margin of victory of 51% to 36%. While we estimate that fewer young people participated in the Democratic primary than in 2008 (35,000 vs. 46,000), youth were a slightly larger share of voters this year (15% vs 14%).

On the Republican side, while through early April Donald J. Trump had received an estimated 40% of youth support or more in only one of the states that had voted: (Mississippi), young people in more recent Republican primaries have been supporting Trump in larger numbers; for example, in Pennsylvania (52%) and Indiana (47%). Now that Trump is the only remaining candidate in the Republican Presidential nominating contest, 63% of youth who participated in yesterday’s West Virginia Republican primary, voted for Trump. It is worth noting that Trump’s youth support, though significant, still trailed behind his overall level of support in a state he won with 77% of the vote. Some youth cast ballots for candidates who have dropped out of the race (12% for Cruz, 6% for Kasich), and almost one-fifth (19%) reported they voted for someone else or had no answer. Young people were, by far, the largest age group to provide this response.

Note: Primaries were also held on May 10 in Nebraska, but limited data are available. We estimate that 16,000 young people voted in the state's Republican primary, making up 8% of all votes cast.