Sanders, the Oldest Candidate, Looks Best to Young Americans
Wednesday, April 13th, 2016
Although he is the oldest candidate in the presidential race, Bernie Sanders receives his highest rating, +39, from the youngest U.S. adults. The image of his Democratic competitor, Hillary Clinton, among this group is her worst, at -23. This disparity in ratings is the largest found for the two candidates among all age groups.
These results are based on ratings of the two Democratic candidates in Gallup Daily tracking from January through March, based on a large sample of more than 18,000 national adults, allowing for a detailed analysis of the candidates' images across the age spectrum. Over this period, an average 43% of all U.S. adults viewed Sanders favorably and 35% unfavorably, while Clinton's ratings tilted negative: 42% favorable, 52% unfavorable.
Sanders' positive image among younger Americans partly reflects the general tendency of younger people to identify as Democrats, although, as noted, even among those aged 18 to 24 he is viewed much more favorably than Clinton.
The positive sentiments of those younger than age 50 are the main drivers of Sanders' overall net positive image among all U.S. adults. Those aged 50 to 64 roughly break even, favorable versus unfavorable, in their views of Sanders. Despite his own relatively advanced age (74), Americans aged 65 to 84 see him more negatively than positively.
Clinton's image varies less than Sanders' across age groups, with her weakest standing among the youngest U.S. adults and her most positive among those aged 30 to 44.
The most striking difference in the images of the two candidates is among those aged 18 to 24, 59% of whom hold a positive opinion of the Vermont senator, compared with 20% who view him negatively. Clinton's image is almost the reverse among this group, with 34% favorable and 57% unfavorable.
The image gap between the two Democratic candidates narrows among those aged 25 to 29, and then generally gets smaller among older age groups. Clinton is viewed (slightly) more positively than Sanders only among the 75 to 79 age group. Complete ratings for each candidate by age group are at the end of this article.
Democrats See Both Candidates More Positively, With Same Patterns by Age
Among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, young people also view Sanders much more favorably than they do Clinton. Sanders' net favorable rating among 18- to 24-year-old Democrats is +69, compared with +3 for Clinton. That gap shrinks among the next-oldest age groups. The two candidates are seen roughly equally among Democrats aged 35 to 44, with Clinton gaining the image advantage among Democrats aged 45 and older.
In general, Clinton's net favorable rating rises almost linearly across Democratic age groups until the 80 to 84 group. Sanders' image shows the opposite pattern, tending to get worse with each successively older group of Democrats.
Sanders would be -- by a wide margin -- the oldest president to take office in U.S. history. Ronald Reagan was 69 when he became president in 1981 and was 77 when he left office. If elected, Sanders would within three years be the oldest person ever to hold the office, and would be well into his 80s if he were to serve two terms. Clinton, if elected, would be the same age as Reagan when he first took office.
Sanders' extraordinary appeal to the youngest group of potential voters is clearly not based on their belief that he shares their life experiences and contemporary outlook. It presumably is based on the appeal of his ideas, approaches to policy or his personality. Ten percent of those who support Sanders say it is because of his focus on education, including his proposal to make all public universities free to any qualified student, and that policy may appeal to the youngest Americans, many of whom are in college.
Sanders is clearly a liberal in his social policies, and young people are not particularly liberals based on self-definitions, instead tending to label themselves as moderates. But many of Sanders' left-leaning policies apparently appeal strongly to the young.
Clinton too is generally on the left of the political spectrum, and seemingly might have a special appeal to young people for the same reasons -- but that isn't the case. Clinton has a long and often controversial public history, and something about that background, her policy proposals or her personality has apparently turned many young people against her.
The real-world value of Sanders' appeal to the young -- in terms of helping him procure the nomination and win in November if he is the nominee -- is debatable, given young adults' lower election turnout rates. Two early indicators suggest this won't change this election: Young people are paying the lowest levels of attention to the election in general, and have the lowest enthusiasm about voting.
Young people did serve as a key component of the winning Barack Obama coalition in 2008 and in 2012. Even if young adults continue to have below-average turnout levels, Clinton undoubtedly would like to re-create that winning combination this year. But if she wins the nomination, it is unclear how likely young people would be to transfer their excitement about Sanders over to her campaign.