I’m seeing a lot of commentary on disappointing youth turnout, some of it leading with Bernie Sanders’ remark, “Have we been as successful as I would hope in bringing in young people in? And the answer is ‘no.'”
Your assessment will depend on expectations. Youth turnout increased in most states:
It didn’t increase enough for Sanders, who won the youth vote by margins as large as 47 points in Tennessee but didn’t experience a tsunami of youth voting.
I am also seeing suggestions that turnout of all ages set records–for example, in South Carolina. But that state’s population is growing by 1.3% per year, so the narrow increase in the number of votes cast since 2008 actually represents a significant decline in participation.
CIRCLE is working on comparative graphs for past elections, but their recent 2020 graph certainly reminds me of one they released somewhat later in the 2016 cycle. Biden now is about where Clinton was then.
It hardly needs to be said that if Biden is the nominee, he will have to engage youth better than Clinton did four years ago. Ideological positioning, rhetoric, and the candidate are not the only factors. The Clinton campaign did a poor job of nuts-and-bolts outreach to youth, and the Biden campaign should invest more. That means investing in diverse young people to do the organizing, not bombarding youth with messages.