Data indicates that Sanders will have difficulties in the general election.
Polls and evidence tell us that a progressive nominee will have a limited appeal in the general election. History tells us not to rely on huge turnout of young voters.
A key element of Sen. Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign strategy is to engage young voters in unprecedented numbers, but that means Sanders is relying on a group of voters who historically do not turn out in large numbers for presidential elections.
Faiz Shakir, Sanders' campaign manager, acknowledges that banking on the support of young voters is a challenge for the campaign, because traditionally only about 40 percent of them vote in presidential elections. In comparison, the turnout rate for voters over the age of 60 is roughly 70 percent.
FactCheck.org wrote about Sen. Bernie Sanders claim of a "huge voter turnout" among young Iowa caucusgoers and his ability to attract young voters.
Sanders Spins Young Voter Turnout in Iowa
Sen. Bernie Sanders claimed there was a "huge voter turnout" among young caucusgoers in Iowa this year, saying the turnout was "even higher than Obama's extraordinary victory in 2008." In fact, about 10,300 fewer young voters turned out this year than in 2008.
"To win, we need energy, we need excitement, we need the largest voter turnout in American history," Sanders told the Des Moines Register before the Iowa caucus. "I think we are the campaign to do that." [Sanders, finished in a virtual dead heat for first place with Pete Buttigieg].
Even though turnout was only slightly better among Democrats in Iowa this year than it was four years ago, Sanders has repeatedly pointed to young voter turnout as a sign his campaign can bring out the youth vote in November. But he's spinning the figures.
It's true that an estimated 24 percent of this year's Democratic caucusgoers in Iowa were 29 years old or younger — a higher percentage than in 2008 (22 percent) and 2016 (18 percent), according to Edison Research, which conducts entrance polls at the Iowa caucus sites for major news organizations. But far more people participated overall in 2008, including more young people.
As the Washington Post reported, 176,000 people participated in the Democratic caucuses in Iowa, which means about 42,240 of the Democratic caucusgoers were 29 years old or younger. That's about 11,640 more than participated in 2016 — when Sanders was also a presidential candidate — but it's about 10,300 fewer younger voters than in 2008.
So, Sanders' claim that young voter turnout among Iowa Democrats "was even higher than Obama's extraordinary victory in 2008" is pure spin.
Who gets the credit for increased young voter percentages: Sanders or normal life expectancy?
According to Pew Research and other sources, voter turnout by adults aged 18 to 29 has increased steadily in recent years. 2004 saw a young voter turnout of 17 percent, 2008 saw 18 percent, 2012 saw 19 percent and 2016 saw 20 percent. The percentage increase of these young Millennials and Gen Z voters is likely related to the dwindling population of aging voters as the Greatest Generation, the Silent Generation and especially Baby Boomers die off.
Voting rates have also historically varied according to age, with older Americans generally voting at higher rates than younger Americans. In 2016, this was once again the case, as citizens 65 years and older reported higher turnout (70.9 percent) than 45- to 64-year-olds (66.6 percent), 30- to 44-year-olds (58.7 percent) and 18- to 29-year-olds (46.1 percent).
Turnout by voters 29 year and younger in the first three contests has been mediocre
The participation rate by 17-29 year old voters in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada has ranged from 14 to 24 percent of the primary electorate. (Note: voters who will be 18 years old on election day in November are allowed to participate in primary contests)
Tufts University's Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) estimated that Iowa's youth (ages 17-29) made up a 24 percent share of all caucusgoers. CIRCLE reported on entrance poll data showing that 48 percent of young people went into the caucuses supporting Bernie Sanders. The Washington Post also reported that people aged 17 to 29 accounted for 24 percent of total Iowa Democratic caucus-goers in 2020, up from 18 percent in 2016, and far exceeds the 12 percent of Republican attendees from that same age group from that same year.
CIRCLE reported that according to exit poll data the youth vote made up 14 percent of the New Hampshire Democratic primary electorate. As in Iowa, about half (51 percent) of young voters supported Senator Bernie Sanders.
According to entrance poll data, CIRCLE reported that Nevada youth (ages 17-29) made up 16 percent of the electorate in the Democratic caucuses on February 22, and two-thirds of them (65 percent) caucused for Sanders.
Based on exit polls, CIRCLE reported that 11% of all voters in the South Carolina's Democratic primary were young people (ages 17-29).
NBC News: Progressives' plan for 2020 victory just took a gut-punch. Now what do they do?
Progressives were hoping Tuesday's elections would finally give them definitive proof that Democrats can run and win on unapologetically liberal issues in swing districts and states.
That didn't happen.
Despite a good night for congressional Democrats overall [in the 2018 midterms], nearly all of national progressive groups' star candidates fell short in their contests in red or purple districts and states. NBC News
Nate Cohn of the New York Times reiterated NBC News point in "Moderate Democrats Fared Best in 2018". Cohn specifically noted that moderate Democrats who disavowed Medicare for all fared better than those to the left of them. NY Times, paywall