Trump Has A Serious Young Voter Problem

In 2007 Pete Leyden and I wrote a long form magazine piece called the “50 Year Strategy” which made the case that two new, large and growing demographic groups — Millennials and Hispanics — had the potential to give Democrats a significant political advantage for many years to come. We wrote that piece because in the 2006 midterms, these two groups, starting to get to a significant size in the electorate, swung dramatically towards the Democrats. Hispanics went from 53–44 (9 pts) Dem in 2004 to 69–30 (39 pts) in 2006, and 18–29 year olds went from 54–45 (9 pts) to 60/38 (22 pts).

2006 was the election where the modern Democratic coalition began to take shape. Barack Obama leaned into this emergent coalition and rode it to two Presidential victories. Democrats have outperformed the GOP in 5 of the 7 elections starting with that 2006 election, and in the two that went bad, 2010 and 2014, Democratic performance with these groups was way off (see here for an historical look at this data).

Like 2006, the 2018 midterms saw Democrats performing at extraordinary levels with these groups. The Hispanic vote went 69–29 (40 pts) for the Dems, rivaling Obama’s 41 point margin in 2012. But it is with young people where we saw an even bigger movement towards the Democrats, Democrats had their best performance in the modern era with both 18–29 (35 pts) and 18–44 year olds (+25):

Exit polls, compiled by NDN
Exit polls, compiled by NDN

Turnout rose dramatically in 2018 too, as the chart graph below captures. .

Washington Post

Recent polls show Biden performing at 2018 levels with 18–29 year olds:

NYT/Siena Biden 60 Trump 26 (34 pts) June 2020

CIRCLE/Tisch Biden 58 Trump 24 (34 pts) June 2020

NextGen

Quinnipiac Biden 63 Trump 27 (36 pts) (18–34 year olds) Sept 2020

Harvard IOP Biden 60 Trump 27 (33 pts) Late Sept 2020

Morning Consult Biden 65 Trump 27 (38 pts) Late Sept 2020

In 2016, Trump lost 18–29s by 19 points, 55–36. So he is 9–12 points below his 2016 numbers here — a truly significant under-performance in a group that is likely to be about 20% of the electorate this year. A new poll by Clean and Prosperous America, while cutting the data bit differently, also shows big problems for Trump wth the youngest part of the electorate.

Recent polls from NextGen America, CIRCLE and Harvard IOP suggest the higher levels of youth turnout we saw in 2018 are likely to carry over to 2020. The newly released IOP poll found 18–29 year old vote intent levels equal to or greater than 2008, a year which saw one of the highest youth turnouts in the modern era. So this age group has swung dramatically towards the Democrats, and could vote in record numbers this year.

Recent state polls by NYT/Siena give snapshots into how significant this emerging youth problem is for Trump:

Georgia (45% Biden, 45% Trump) — Trump is tied or leads in all age groups over 30. Biden leads among 18–29s by 63–34 (29 pts). 3% are undecided or with a third party candidate.

North Carolina (45% Biden, 44% Trump) — Trump leads in all age groups over 30. Biden leads among 18–29s by 62–20 (42 pts). 18% are undecided or with a third party candidate.

Texas (43% Biden, 46% Trump) — Trump leads among 45 plus, Biden has a 45–43 lead with 30–44, and a 60–15 (45 pts) lead with 18–29. 25% are undecided or with a third party candidate.

Arizona (49% Biden, 40% Trump) — Trump only leads here with 45–64 year olds (remarkably). Only 18–29s it’s 53–25 Biden (28 pts), and 22% are undecided or with a third party candidate.

Note the Trump number here — 15, 20, 25, 34. Rough stuff for him and the Rs.

New Fox News polls out Thursday have similar spreads:

Nevada (52% Biden, 41% Trump) — Biden leads with voters over 45 49–45; he leads with 18–34s by 63–27 (36 pts) and 10% are undecided or with a third party candidate.

Ohio (50% Biden, 45% Trump) — Biden leads with voters over 45 49–47; he leads with 18–34s 58–35 (23 pts) and 7% are undecided or with a third party candidate.

Pennsylvania (51% Biden, 44% Trump) — Biden leads with voters over 45 49–46; he leads with 18–34s 64–31 (33 pts) and 5% are undecided or with a third party candidate.

We did some rough calculations about what this means for 2020. Assuming 18–29 year olds are once again 19% of the electorate (as they were in 2016), and turnout is 10% higher across the board (this may be conservative), if 18–29s end up +35 for Biden it means a 5–6m vote gain for Biden, or 2.5–3pts in the race. And if Biden’s lead is about 7 pts, 50.5 to 43.5 now, this means that this shift just among 18–29 year olds accounts for at least half of the 5 point shift towards Biden we’ve seen since 2016 (Clinton +2 to Biden +7).

In many of these polls the number of 18–29 year olds (in many cases 30–44 year olds too) who are currently undecided or supporting a third party candidate is much higher than the older electorates. This suggests a few things. First, it means that a plurality or even majority of the undecideds left in the race are in age cohorts which favor Democrats — bad news for Trump. It also suggests that the Biden and other Democratic campaigns should be spending heavily now on winning over the younger voters who remain uncommitted and pushing turnout as high it can be. Young voters, particularly 18–29s remain a very powerful area of opportunity for Democrats in the home stretch. But like all voters Democrats should only expect them to vote for them if they are asked, and asked in culturally appropriate and compelling ways. Both the CIRCLE poll and the new one from Clean and Prosperous America suggest that Democratic campaigns still have work to do to reach and connect with many millons of these young voters still very open to voting for them.

As for Hispanics, our view now is that Biden is likely to come close to Democratic 2016 and 2018 margins of 38 and 40 pts. The polling with Hispanics has been all over the place, and this is a voting group which is hard to poll due to the requirement of needing truly bi-lingual phone banks to get an accurate sample. There are polls showing Biden below Clinton’s 2016 numbers, but there also polls showing Trump below his 2016 results. The best recent national poll of Hispanics (NBC/Telemundo) had it 62–26 — so a 36 point lead for Biden with many undecideds. Trump is 2 points below his 28% 2016 result here, and it is likely that the undecideds break heavily towards Biden, which would get him up to the high 30s, low 40s as late undecideds usually break towards the challenger and the Biden campaign has an awful lot of material work with. Again what we are seeing here is Trump below his 2016 number with a critical emerging part of the electorate.

So while Biden may not be seeing a big swing with Hispanics as he is with younger voters, even keeping Clinton’s 38 pt margin means that he will gain votes as the Hispanic electorate grows meaningfully every two years; and it is possible that +40 with Hispanics really is the upper limit with this constituency, and that Democrats got to its upper limit here earlier than they did with younger voters.

I run NDN/NPI, a DC think tank. Clinton & DNC alum, Tufts grad, Aspen Crown Fellow. Father of 3 great kids, truly lucky husband. Proud globalist.

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