On the night of Feb. 3, Iowans will leave their homes to caucus with neighbors and help select the Democratic presidential nominee. Among them will be 17-year-olds who turn 18 by Nov. 3, Election Day.
These teen caucus participants might help pick a president, especially with the most recent CBS News Iowa poll showing a three-way tie for first between Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg. In 2008, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John Edwards also went into caucus night in a virtual tie, but unprecedented youth turnout delivered an Obama victory that shocked the world. In 2016, young voters powered Sanders to a near-tie with Hillary Clinton, which also stunned the political establishment. Could the same happen in 2020?
At 78 and 77, respectively, Sanders and Biden are two of the oldest-ever presidential candidates, while Buttigieg is one of the youngest (38 by caucus night). Interestingly, however, young voters are gravitating toward Sanders and Biden.
In the most recent national Hill-HarrisX poll, Sanders leads among Gen Z voters at 37%, to Biden’s 19%, with Buttigieg receiving a goose egg. Among the broader A18-34 demographic, Sanders again leads with 30% support, with Biden placing a close second at 25%, and Buttigieg still barely registering at 1%. Buttigieg’s strongest age group? Adults 50-64.
Why do the youngest voters support the oldest candidates? For starters, Sanders electrifies young voters with his promise of revolutionary change, including Medicare For All, free college, abolishing student debt, and a Green New Deal. Secondly, his endorsement by 30-year-old phenom Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (“AOC”) proved a game-changer in his battle for liberal support against Senator Elizabeth Warren, and revived his campaign following his heart attack.
Thirdly, Gen Z is the most ethnically diverse generation, and Biden and Sanders have made the greatest inroads among ethnically diverse voters. Among African Americans, Biden enjoys 43% support in the Hill-HarrisX poll, the highest level of support for any candidate in any key demographic. And among Latinx voters, Biden and Sanders are virtually neck-and-neck, at 29% and 22%, respectively. AOC’s endorsement of Sanders helped rally Latinx voters to his side, while Biden has decades-long ties to the African-American community, not to mention “VP to Obama” on his resume. Biden and Sanders’ lock on these voters helped force Kamala Harris and Julian Castro out of the race, and leave Cory Booker mired in low single digits.
If the youthquake strikes a third consecutive time, look for Sanders to be the winner on Feb. 3. However, Biden’s ace could be the “viability threshold.” If candidates don’t receive at least 15% support in a precinct, their supporters must caucus for another candidate. So if Amy Klobuchar, John Delaney and Michael Bloomberg don’t achieve viability, their moderate supporters might break for Biden. Either way, the two big winners on Feb. 3 will probably be in their late seventies.
What are the implications for brand marketers?
*Age brings authenticity. The oldest brands can be Gen Z powerhouses if they stand for qualities attractive to young consumers. Think Jeep, Coca-Cola, Levi Strauss and others. If your brand has stood the test of time and can do good for teens, don’t hesitate to tell them.
*Influencers matter. AOC helped sell Sanders to the Snapchat generation. Who can sing your brand’s praises to Gen Z in a genuine, heartfelt but also somewhat surprising way?
*Intersectionality counts. To speak to Gen Z means speaking to African American, Latinx, Asian American and LGBTQ consumers, and addressing their unique concerns and needs.
Follow these best practices during your campaign, and your brand can also win over young voters, wherever they caucus.