Of the estimated 31,000 young people who caucused for the Democrats on Monday, 84 percent supported Sen. Bernie Sanders — a much higher percentage than even Barack Obama garnered during his first run for the White House in 2008.
During Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses eight years ago, then Sen. Obama won support from 57 percent of both the 17-24 age group and the 25-29 group, according to data compiled by the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning & Engagement, or CIRCLE.
The center is a nonpartisan, independent, academic research center associated with Tufts University, and it for years has produced an analysis of the role of young voters in the Iowa caucuses. In addition to widespread support for Sanders, the center this year found broad backing for senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.
Among young Republicans, 26 percent named Cruz as their top candidate and 23 percent named Rubio as their choice. Donald Trump placed third among the youngest sector, earning 20 percent of the support, followed by 14 percent for Rand Paul and 11 percent for Ben Carson.
But center Director Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg said the analysis uses an Edison Research entrance poll and vote totals reported by the New York Times and the Iowa Democratic Party. That means voters could have changed their minds during the process and gone in a different direction while caucusing.
“Because it’s an entrance poll and a sample, the difference between 3 and 4 percent is within the margin of error,” Kawashima-Ginsberg said, citing the support gap separating Cruz and Rubio.
Exemplifying that narrow margin is the fact that Cruz took the overall Republican vote but Rubio seemed to dominate locations on Iowa’s public university campuses, according to results from the Republican Party of Iowa.
All of the Republican locations on the University of Iowa campus went to Rubio, for example.
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When looking at overall turnout among the younger crowd this year, the center found 11.2 percent of eligible Iowans aged 17 to 29 participated in either the Republican or Democratic caucuses — marking only the second time since 1996 that youth turnout has exceeded 4 percent.
The last time it did so was in 2008, when 14 percent of the state’s young people turned out. And although that percentage was slightly higher than this year, the Republican Party on Monday saw a record-breaking 22,000 young people participate, according to the center.
Still, Monday was the first time in more than a decade that Iowa’s caucuses have been held when college and university students are back on campus following winter break — the 2008 caucuses occurred on Jan. 3, before students returned.
“We were surprised, in a way, that it didn’t make a huge difference,” Kawashima-Ginsberg said. “It is something we really all need to work on — especially because the college students were back in session this year, and we expected it would be higher.”
But youth turnout could have been worse, Kawashima-Ginsberg said. And, come November, she guarantees a bigger showing among young people for the general election.
“Half of the young people vote in general elections,” according to Kawashima-Ginsberg.
As for Monday’s caucuses, the center estimates more than 53,200 young voters participated.
“And that’s something to pay attention to,” she said.
Kawashima-Ginsberg said the youth enthusiasm over Sanders likely contributed to his virtual tie with previous Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton.
“Last night’s Iowa caucuses demonstrated the potential power of young people to shape elections,” she said. “In the Democratic caucus, young voters helped to propel Senator Sanders to a virtual tie, and Republican youth broke their own record of caucus participation.
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“One message is clear: when candidates and campaigns ask young people to participate and inspire them to get involved, they respond.”
Christopher Larimer, a University of Northern Iowa political science professor, said he was not at all surprised by the swell of support for Sanders, as he’s been hearing chatter to that end across campus and in his classrooms.
“They’re wanting to be a part of his political revolution,” Larimer said. “For younger voters, it’s exciting.”
Larimer expressed some surprise at the support for Cruz, but thought he might have attracted some in the older portion of the youth age bracket — like those age 25 to 29. He said both Cruz and Rubio might also have been helped by their age — Cruz is 45 and Rubio is 44.
“I think it’s perhaps identifying with a younger generation,” he said. “It might not be anything related to policy.”