Olympia, Washington — With two Democratic debates behind us and the next round just a week away, young voters remain divided on which candidates to support in the 2020 election.
Sen. Bernie Sanders holds the lead among 18- to 29-year-old voters, followed by Mayor Pete Buttigieg at 11% and Elizabeth Warren at 10% according to a recent poll by The Economist and YouGov. Former Vice President Joe Biden trails at 8%, and 5% of those voters support Sen. Kamala Harris, the poll says. Sanders is also leading among 30- to 44-year-olds. There seems to be a generational divide among voters 45 and older who are flocking to Biden followed by Warren and Harris.
With the election 15 months away, there is still time for these numbers to shift, as 15% of young voters surveyed remain undecided and 4% say they would not vote at all. With so many Democratic candidates in the running, it’s hard for many to decide who to support, even though 18% of those polled said they wished there were even more candidate choices.
As crowded as the Democratic field is, many young voters, like Matt Olimb, are putting in the work to learn more about all the candidates.
“For each candidate, I’m ignoring marketing and doing pros and cons on what proposals are and aren’t feasible,” said Olimb, a 23-year-old student in Stafford, Va. “Our job is to review their resumes, and we should be critical of their proposals.”
“I’d have to say I’m leaning towards (Elizabeth) Warren, (Bernie) Sanders, (Jay) Inslee, and (Cory) Booker now,” said Mikayla Fisher-An, a 20-year-old student in Pullman, Wash. “They seemed the most authentic, ambitious and well prepared to me. (Julián) Castro also stood out to me for those reasons.”
Gen Z and millennial voters are enthusiastic about the 2020 election and according to the poll data, are more concerned with selecting a nominee who can win the general election next November. According to the Census Bureau, voters ages 18 to 29 were the only age group that saw an increase in voter turnout in the 2016 midterm election compared to 2012. And if 2018 is an indicator, the youth vote will be critical in the 2020 election.
“Young people make up the largest share of the voting population,” said Vladimir Medenica, a postdoctoral scholar affiliated with the GenForward Survey project at the University of Chicago. “If candidates can tap into the youth vote, there are a lot of votes that can help them, if they can get that mobilization.”
“So far out from the election, most polling about candidate support is driven by name recognition,” said Medenica, noting how much Biden and Sanders have been in the news. “There are still a lot of young people supporting other candidates, and support will change as different issues are discussed.
With the next Democratic presidential debates set for next week, there are several issues young voters hope candidates will address. Healthcare, immigration, abortion rights, gun control and the environment are top issues for young adults according to The Economist/YouGov poll.
Sanders, Warren, and Harris are all in favor of “Medicare For All” plans while Biden favors a Medicare public option. Healthcare reform of any kind would likely be a long fight without a united legislature, something that worries Olimb.
“Having a political pissing match just distracts from the issue,” he said.
“At the end of the day, what’s important to me is finding a way to fix how ungodly expensive our healthcare system is, and we all know it’s bad but can’t agree on the solution.”
Olimb says immigration is also an important issue to him this election, a sentiment 77% of young voters share, including Eric Wilke of Houston, Texas.
“I try not to cherry-pick on certain topics like that, but stances on (immigration) will definitely play a lot into my decision (on who to support),” said Wilke, 22. “I have family that have been trying for years to get their citizenships but have been rejected for whatever reason, despite doing everything correctly.”
The second round of Democratic presidential debates are on Tuesday, July 30 and Wednesday, July 31 in Detroit. The 20-candidate lineup will look similar to last month’s matchup with just a few changes. Sanders and Warren, the two progressive candidates who are heavily courting young voters with their student debt plans, will face off on Tuesday night.
Montana Gov. Steve Bullock will replace California Rep. Eric Swalwell who ended his presidential campaign earlier this month. The second night will offer a rematch of Harris and Biden, who drew headlines as the issue of race took center stage in last month's debate.
Political engagement is up among millennials and Generation Z, which some attribute to the activism following last year’s deadly school shooting in Parkland, Florida. A recent poll from the Institute of Politics at Harvard Kennedy School shows young Democrats will play a more significant role in 2020 than in the 2016 presidential election. With many increasingly concerned about the moral direction of the country, their vote will likely play a historic role in the upcoming election, the study finds.
“The prevailing thought is that millennials and Gen Z's are entitled, lazy and spending money on frivolous things,” said Medenica. “Young voters are going to be crucial for 2020, especially given the current political climate.”
HOW TO WATCH
Dates: Tuesday, July 30 and Wednesday, July 31
Debate candidates for Tuesday’s debate:
Steve Bullock, Pete Buttigieg, John Delaney, John Hickenlooper, Amy Klobuchar, Beto O’Rourke, Tim Ryan, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Marianne Williamson.
Debate candidates for Wednesday’s debate:
Michael Bennet, Joe Biden, Cory Booker, Julián Castro, Bill de Blasio, Tulsi Gabbard, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Jay Inslee, and Andrew Yang.