Zirpoli: Youth vote influenced by third-party candidates

According to Harry Enten, senior writer and analyst for, "In 2012, voters younger than 25 accounted for about 9 percent of the electorate, a slightly larger share than Latinos. While they favored President Obama by 29 percentage points over Mitt Romney," according to Enten, Hillary Clinton today is struggling to secure anything close to that support.

Enten cites a SurveyMonkey poll of 1,200 registered voters ages 18 to 24 that found Clinton leading Trump by only 14 points (41 percent to 27 percent), with 17 percent supporting Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson and 10 percent supporting Green Party candidate Jill Stein.


Historically, Republicans do best with older voters. This has been good for Republicans up and down the ballot because older voters have the highest voter turnout rate compared to any other age group. This is especially so during midterm elections when turnout is very low across the board. Democrats, on the other hand, do better with younger voters who have the lowest voter turnout rate than any other age group. While national polls show that these trends seem to be holding in the 2016 presidential election, the third-party choices have weakened Clinton's support among young voters, and she is not receiving the support Obama had in 2008 or 2012.

Clinton is also having trouble securing all the young voters who initially supported Sen. Bernie Sanders for the Democratic nomination. Many of these Sanders supporters have turned to third-party candidates. For example, a Virginia state poll released by Christopher Newport University this past Sunday found that 23 percent of voters younger than 35 are supporting third-party candidates.

The saving grace for Clinton, however, is that Trump is doing worse among young voters compared to both Clinton and previous Republican presidential candidates. For example, a recent Texas state survey by Public Policy Poll found that "Donald Trump leads with 44 percent to 38 percent for Hillary Clinton, 6 percent for Gary Johnson, 2 percent for Jill Stein." The poll found that "Trump's lead is based entirely on his holding a 63-33 advantage among seniors. With voters under 65, however, Clinton leads him 49-45. And when you look just specifically at voters under 45, Clinton leads Trump 60-35."

According to Jennifer Agiesta, CNN polling director, reviewing a survey conducted by the Harvard University Institute of Politics, Trump is performing "worse than most other recent Republican candidates for president" with voters ages 18-29. In that survey, Trump had the support of just 25 percent of voters younger than 30. This compares to an average of 38 percent support for Republican presidential candidates from this age group since 1992.

Clinton is also struggling to secure young black voters to the degree President Obama did in his two elections. In a recent review of young black voters, Jonathan Martin, writing for The New York Times, found that in key battleground states such as Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia, only "70 percent of African-Americans under 35 said they were backing Mrs. Clinton" compared to 92 percent who voted for President Obama in 2012.

Indeed, Clinton's support among young voters is strong, but not overwhelming as it was for Obama. Young voters have other choices in this election cycle. Clinton must make up this gap by winning other groups, and this brings us to demographics. Again, we can look to the Texas poll. According to that poll, "Trump has a 69 to 25 lead with white voters but the reason the state's so competitive overall is that among non-white voters Clinton has a 73-21 lead, including a 68-27 edge with the state's booming Hispanic population."

According to Jens Manuel Krogstad, writing for the Pew Research Center, "The U.S. electorate this year will be the country's most racially and ethnically diverse ever. Nearly one-in-three eligible voters on Election Day (31 percent) will be Hispanic, black, Asian or other racial or ethnic minority."

Of course, the youth vote is also driven by the personality of the candidates. For the record, Ronald Reagan won a majority of young voters in 1984 and won the election in a landslide.

The two big questions for young voters in 2016 is, as always, turnout, and how many of them will vote for third-party candidates.

Tom Zirpoli writes from Westminster. He is program coordinator of the Human Services Management graduate program at McDaniel College. His column appears Wednesdays. Email him at