Warren, Yang make gains with youth vote

Brittany Shepherd
National Politics Reporter

WASHINGTON — Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and businessman Andrew Yang are gaining traction with the youngest voting bloc, according to a recent study published by Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.

Warren jumped 18 percentage points, to 22 percent, a significant gain from a previous Harvard poll conducted in the spring, when her support from voters ages 18 to 29 was floating low at 4 percent. Yet the spike wasn’t enough to earn top billing; Warren was in second place behind Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who has historically had favorable polling among younger voters, due in part to his campaign’s targeted focus on recruiting and training. According to the Harvard study, 28 percent of young voters prefer Sanders; 22 percent, Warren; and 16 percent, former Vice President Joe Biden.

Yang too saw a jump, though more modest. He gained 4 percentage points, which landed him at 6 percent support, in fourth place, right behind Biden. Trailing Yang are South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke (who dropped out of the race last week) and California Sen. Kamala Harris.

While traditional thinking may rule out young voters as a reliable voting bloc, recent election turnout numbers show that behavior patterns among millennial and Gen Z voters are changing. During the 2018 congressional midterms, millennials nearly doubled their turnout from 22 percent in the previous midterms to 42 percent, and the Pew Research Center estimates that young voters will make up 10 percent of eligible voters in 2020. 

And those newly eligible voters have been paying closer attention to the election than in previous cycles. According to Harvard’s data, 47 percent of voters under 30 say they’re keeping tabs on the news, and 30 percent consider themselves “politically engaged,” which is 10 percent higher than at the same point of the last cycle.

This increasing engagement is why many campaigns are making concerted efforts to target those voters. On a call with donors Tuesday, Biden campaign manager Greg Schultz conceded that the campaign was sagging among younger supporters, and said it was working toward catching up to competitors. 

“We compete with the college vote, but we’re probably third or fourth in that boat right now and think we can do better and know that we have issues,” said Schultz. 

In September, Biden’s deputy campaign manager Pete Kavanaugh told Yahoo News that he remained confident that youth turnout in the first four early voting states would trend in the former vice president’s direction.

Sanders’s campaign has been unique in its dedication to retraining and increasing its young support. In the past several months, Team Bernie has dedicated “boot camps” that aim to recruit young voters to become evangelists, who tap their friends, parents and friends’ parents to download the campaign app Bern, which houses resources for voter registration and Sanders’s major policy points. 

Yet given the fluidity in the polls, the youth vote is nowhere near secured. A quick look at Harvard’s latest data shows that even those candidates with lower name recognition, like Yang, have the potential to take the lead ahead of sitting senators and career politicians. 

“The enthusiasm of young Americans that resulted in historic turnout in the 2018 midterms shows no signs of abating heading into 2020,” said John Della Volpe, director of polling for Harvard’s Institute of Politics in a statement attached to the poll. “And unlike the last three Democratic primaries where President Obama and Sen. Sanders dominated the youth vote, it is very much up for grabs in 2020.”

Elizabeth Warren greets supporters before the Iowa Democratic Party's Liberty and Justice Celebration in Des Moines. (Photo: Charlie Neibergall/AP)