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How Engaged Are Young Voters In The 2016 Presidential Election?


Every four years, the political experts tell us young voters could be a decisive factor in the presidential campaign if they would vote in numbers equal to older age groups. Typically, they do not. This year though, in Iowa, young Republicans turned out in record numbers and young Democrats came close to the heights their turnout reached when Barack Obama first ran. We reached Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg at Tufts University. She is studying the youth vote this election year. Good morning.


MONTAGNE: So talk to us about the numbers in Iowa.

KAWASHIMA-GINSBERG: The youth turnout was second-highest in the last 20 years at 11.2 percent. And it really demonstrated the potential of youth shaping the election results as well as how young people respond to strong outreach.

MONTAGNE: Well, let's start then with the Republicans and who they responded to.

KAWASHIMA-GINSBERG: Young people supported Sen. Cruz the most at 27 percent, followed closely for Rubio at 24 percent. And Mr. Trump trailed at third at 19 percent.

MONTAGNE: And the Democrats, that was pretty interesting because Bernie Sanders won big with the youth in Iowa.

KAWASHIMA-GINSBERG: Eighty-four percent of young caucus-goers supported Bernie Sanders compared to 14 percent who supported Sec. Clinton.

MONTAGNE: Does this suggest something seemingly obvious, that young voters are attracted to a more radical message both on the right and the left?

KAWASHIMA-GINSBERG: It is possible that young people really are looking for different faces and different kinds of policy that bring more radical change than maybe more mainstream candidates can bring to them. For both Cruz, Rubio and Bernie Sanders, they are sending the message to the older Republicans and Democrats.

MONTAGNE: Now, ahead is New Hampshire.


MONTAGNE: Young voters in that state are different from those in Iowa. How so?

KAWASHIMA-GINSBERG: You know, they do share some common characteristics such as, you know, being predominantly white and also having generally higher education attainment. That said, the young people under 30 in New Hampshire are relatively older compared to Iowa's. They are also more likely to have already finished college.

MONTAGNE: But more Democratic or more Republican?

KAWASHIMA-GINSBERG: In the caucus and primaries, their supports have really varied from year to year, again suggesting that young people really show different kinds of supports and turn out in different numbers depending on how you outreach to them.

MONTAGNE: Back in 2008, there was the charismatic candidate Barack Obama, who drew many, many young voters to the polls. Are you seeing anything like that this time around?

KAWASHIMA-GINSBERG: The fact that young people turned out in pretty large number for Bernie Sanders may be an indication that he is a candidate that can turn out a person that would otherwise not come out to vote in primary and caucuses.

MONTAGNE: Well, thank you very much for joining us.


MONTAGNE: Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg is director of CIRCLE, the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University's Tisch College. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.