Young voters turned out a higher rate in the Democratic caucuses this year than last time, an important improvement after many organizations and campaigns prioritized youth vote engagement. Voters between the ages of 17 to 29 saw the biggest spike in caucus turnout this year of any age group in Iowa.
According to John Della Volpe, a polling director at RealClear Opinion Research, the number of 17- to 29-year-olds who showed up to caucus was up five percentage points since 2016, bringing that age group to 23% of caucus-goers this year.
About 21% of caucus-goers were in the 30 to 44 age range, an increase for them of 2%.
Meanwhile, ages 45 to 64 participated in fewer numbers this year, dropping 8% compared to four years ago.
Iowans 65 and older caucused at a rate equal to 2016.
Overall, 176,436 Iowans participated in the Democratic caucuses this year, only a slight increase over 2016.
“The youth voting block is the most powerful voting block in the country,” said Brit Bender, state director for NextGen Iowa. “Looking at the proportions of the population, they are going to be the most powerful group.”
NextGen Iowa worked hard to mobilize potential caucus-goers. Last summer, for example, they went to nine PRIDE festivals across the state.
They also attended caucus carnivals and video game tournaments and reached out to students at the University of Iowa, Iowa State University, the University of Northern Iowa, Grinnell College and Mount Mercy.
NextGen held an Iowa Youth in Politicos Forum in Iowa City in September as well.
“We’re going to do the same thing this year, but hopefully bigger and bolder,” Bender said.
NextGen’s campaign will continue throughout 2020 as they prepare for the November general election.
“We have the June primary coming up,” Bender said. “And then we’ll be focused on registering voters all year long and collecting commit to vote cards and preparing to make big waves.”
Bender said she learned a lot throughout the caucus cycle about what motivates young people to vote. It starts with the candidates and the causes they champion.
“A lot of students care about college affordability and health care affordability and a clean environment,” Bender said. “The top-tier candidates we have seen both in the Iowa caucuses and in New Hampshire really addressed those issues head-on.
“I think the numbers play out on that,” Bender said. “I definitely learned — and what I knew all along is — young voters are really motivated to turn out for causes they care about.”
In all, NextGen has deployed resources to 11 battleground states and made a $3.5 million investment in Iowa.
In addition to NextGen, young Iowans had other opportunities to engage in the political process, like the Des Moines Register and Des Moines Public School Youth Voices 2020 candidate forum in September.
In October, climate activist Greta Thunberg visited Iowa City and joined students for a school walkout.
The Sunrise Movement also helped get Iowa’s youth involved in the caucus process through activism around climate change. Starting Line caught up with one of the Sunrise Movement’s youth organizers late last year.
By Paige Godden