Was the lack of young voter turnout to blame for Bernie Sanders dropping out of the presidential race?


Fact Box

  • If Bernie Sanders had been elected president, he would have been the oldest president to be sworn into office at the age of 78. 
  • During the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries, Sanders won approximately half of the voters under age 30, while the Nevada primary garnered him two-thirds of the younger vote. 
  • An Alliance for Youth Action poll from 2019 revealed that for young voters, bold policy changes were more important when choosing a presidential candidate than the person’s ability to defeat Trump in 2020.  
  • Pew Research Center found that 10% of eligible voters in the 2020 election were members of Generation Z.

Katherine (Yes)

There is a tremendous gap in partisan identification between younger and older generations. Approximately 21% of Millennials and Gen Z-ers identify as liberal Democrats. It's not surprising, then, that Bernie Sanders declared the key to his success depended on the participation of 'millions of young people who had never voted before.'

But US Census data shows only 46.1% of voters under 30 vote regularly, while 70% of retirement-age voters—who tend to be less liberal—regularly vote. Data show that young people participated less in the 2020 primary than in 2016, with fewer voting for Sanders altogether. In South Carolina, 11% of voters were young, down from 15% in 2016. Where Sanders won 54% of the youth vote in 2016, he won only 43% this year.

Even in Michigan, a state ideologically friendly to Sanders, the youth vote was depressed. In 2016, 45% of voters aged 18-44 supported Sanders in 2016, while only 37% did this year. This all but negates the stronger share of support Sanders received. In 2016, he was favored by 33% of voters in this age group. This year, 57% supported Sanders, but this was not enough to propel him to victory. Overall, he received only 52 delegates, compared to Joe Biden's 73.

Because Democratic primaries assign delegates proportionally (the number of delegates a candidate receives is tied to the percentage of the vote they win), turnout is incredibly important. Sander's inability to mobilize the youth cannot be overlooked in his campaign's failures or for future campaigns he might run. 

Noah (No)

Bernie Sanders did not suspend his presidential race because young voters in America did not turn out to the polls in strong numbers. Sanders' campaign was doomed from the start because he was going to be denied the presidential nomination by the Democratic Party itself, no matter what. Outsiders, especially socialists, need not apply. 

While it is true that young people didn't turn up to vote with the anticipated numbers, Sanders winning or not winning their vote by huge margins is inconsequential. Former vice-president Joe Biden was able to pull out and win the much more plentiful older voters, sealing his rise to the top among Democrats. That was more important than anything else between the two candidates. Instead, when examining Sanders' early exit, it's important to consider two other factors. One is the actual decline of the total number of young voters in the electorate itself. There just aren't as many of those voters as there used to be.

But perhaps more importantly, the key reason behind Bernie Sanders ending his campaign was the lack of support and encouragement by the Democratic Party elders themselves. They made it clear that he would be denied the nomination no matter the cost. He was a socialist outsider who was not going to get the nod—not now, not ever. With that handwriting on the wall, Bernie Sanders' campaign was given its death certificate. The rest now belongs to history.

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