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Clinton And Trump Are Losing A Lot Of Young Voters

Donald Trump received one of his better polling results on Thursday — at least since the conventions. The highly regarded Pew Research Center released a survey showing Hillary Clinton leading Trump by 41 percent to 37 percent, with Gary Johnson at 10 percent and Jill Stein at 4. Consequently, Clinton’s chances of winning the election dropped 2 points in both our forecasts, to 86 percent in polls-only and to 76 percent in polls-plus.

The fact that a 4-point deficit is a “good” result for Trump should give you a sense for how poorly he’s doing. Clinton remains a clear favorite to win the White House. There was, however, another interesting bit of info in the Pew poll: The youngest voters in the electorate don’t seem very enamored with the major-party candidates.

Clinton led Trump 38 percent to 27 percent among 18- to 29-year-olds, with Johnson at 19 percent and Stein at 9 percent, according to Pew. That is, Clinton was winning a smaller share of under-30 voters than she was of voters overall. That’s unusual, and normally, I wouldn’t pay much attention to such a result because the margin of error on subgroups (especially younger voters, who are more difficult to reach in a poll) is large. But Pew’s finding is fairly consistent with other surveys since the conventions.

Here are the results from the five most recent national polls1 with an 18- to 29-year-old voter crosstab taken since the conventions.

ABC News/Washington Post 43% 16% 10% 24%
Marist College 41 23 16 9
Morning Consult 40 14 8 23
Pew Research Center 38 19 9 27
YouGov 41 14 8 19
Average 41 17 10 20
Clinton and Trump struggle with voters under the age of 30

Averages are rounded.

Clinton is earning 41 percent, on average, with young voters. In both 2008 and 2012, by contrast, Barack Obama won at least 60 percent of these voters, according to the American National Election Studies (ANES).

But it’s not that younger voters like Trump. Quite the opposite: Only 20 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds across the five surveys say they’ll vote for him. If that held, it would be the worst performance by a major party nominee among voters under 30 since at least 1952, according to the ANES.

Rather, 18- to 29-year-olds seem to be flirting with third-party candidates more than usual this year. Both Johnson and Stein are polling in the double digits, and Johnson is nearly pulling the same percentage of the under-30 vote as Trump. That shouldn’t necessarily to be too surprising given that younger voters are more likely to identify as independents than are older voters. Younger voters were also much more likely to vote for independent Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary than other age groups were.

With an unusually high share of under-30 voters saying they’ll vote third party, Clinton’s margin over Trump among this age group is lower than we’d expect given how Obama did in the last two election cycles. Per the ANES, Obama won the under-30 crowd by 34 percentage points in 2008 and by 24 points in 2012. Right now, Clinton’s margin over Trump among 18- to -29- year-olds is 21 points. This isn’t a super fair comparison, as we’re putting a pre-election poll which includes undecided voters against a post-election poll of actual voters (with no undecideds, obviously).2 Also, third party candidates have historically lost support as Election Day approaches, so it’s possible some young voters will find their way back to the Democratic Party. But it’s something to keep an eye on.

What makes the under-30 vote’s flirtation with third-party candidates especially interesting is that this group, in 2016, is even more ethnically and racially diverse than it was in 2008 and 2012. Longtime FiveThirtyEight readers know that we’re skeptical of the “permanent Democratic majority” hypothesis — the belief that a diversifying electorate will give Democrats an enduring advantage against Republicans in presidential elections. And this is one small example of why we’re skeptical: Coalitions change. Instead of automatically going Democratic, younger voters, for now, seem to be checking out options beyond the two major parties.

Clinton leads by enough overall right now that underperforming a bit with young voters isn’t a big deal. If the election becomes closer, however, Clinton may need help appealing to this group.


  1. Excluding tracking polls. The surveys we’re using are from Pew, YouGov, Morning Consult, Marist and ABC News/Washington Post.

  2. In the pre-election version of the ANES survey, which allows respondents to answer undecided, Obama’s leads were 40 percentage points in 2008 and 22 points in 2012. Clinton’s margin right now is about equal to Obama’s last election in the pre-election survey. Of course, Clinton is also doing better than Obama did overall.

Harry Enten was a senior political writer and analyst for FiveThirtyEight.