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Are Young Voters Altering Republican And Democratic Primary Races?


Here we are - halfway through the presidential primary season, with a key vote coming up tomorrow in Wisconsin. Given all the attention to young voters in 2016, let's check in with Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg of Tufts University, who's studying voters who are under 30. Welcome.


MONTAGNE: When we talk about young voters, of course, in this election, the first candidate that comes to mind is Bernie Sanders. He has been picking up an extremely large share of young voters in the Democratic primaries, but has he inspired more young people than usual to actually turn out to vote?

KAWASHIMA-GINSBERG: We were actually seeing less or fewer young Democratic voters participating in early primaries than 2008. But in the last several - so the mini Super Tuesday of March 15, for example, young people broke their previous record that they set in 2008 in Illinois and Florida. They also broke their own record in Michigan, and often by quite a large margin.

MONTAGNE: What about other states where Bernie Sanders didn't break records? Does this even out? Does it make a difference that he did so well in some states?

KAWASHIMA-GINSBERG: You know, the competition's really stiff in some states, and older voters turn out in large numbers. Florida is a good example where young voters did turn out in very large numbers and did give a majority of support to Bernie Sanders, but still Hillary Clinton won the state.

MONTAGNE: Is there any state where young voters have made a difference in primaries?

KAWASHIMA-GINSBERG: Michigan was sort of a prime example of that, where the earlier polls had suggested that Secretary Clinton would win, and yet young voters turned out at a much higher rate than they had in 2008. And they also gave an overwhelming support for Bernie Sanders. So without the young people's incredible support, he would have easily lost the state.

MONTAGNE: Let's turn to the Republicans. And in a lot of the Republican primaries, turnout has been record-breaking. Is that true for young Republican voters as well? Are they highly motivated and getting out there?

KAWASHIMA-GINSBERG: For young voters, they have broken their own participation record in every state that we tracked so far. So there's certainly no shortage of enthusiasm there.

MONTAGNE: And where was that going? What were the candidates that, so far, the young voters - those under 30 in the Republican Party - have been getting behind?

KAWASHIMA-GINSBERG: Initially, there was more support for Marco Rubio than maybe other candidates. And initially, there was even support for Sen. Rand Paul in some ways. But those candidates are no longer there. But, you know, there's no sign that the young Republican voters will stop turning out the vote because they seem to have a lot to say, whether they are supporting Donald Trump, the front-runner, or they're coming out to vote against him.

MONTAGNE: Let's talk for a minute about Wisconsin. How big of a voting group are young voters there?

KAWASHIMA-GINSBERG: Wisconsin has a really large college population. And in the past, they have turned out at quite a high number. It's one of the top in the country in terms of their turnout in the general election. So we expect the same in Wisconsin. It also really helps that Wisconsin has an open primary as opposed to closed primary. And as we know, about half of the young people who are registered register as independents or unaffiliated, so open primaries tend to really encourage young people's turnout.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for joining us.


MONTAGNE: Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg studies young voters at Tufts University. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.