On Super Tuesday “Gaps”

By Sarah Dutton 

The New Generation Gap 

Those who lived through the 1960s remember well the “Generation Gap” of that era, and for those too young to remember, they have likely read about it in history books. History is repeating itself – at least on this year’s Super Tuesday, as a new political generation gap has emerged. 

While it isn’t news that Bernie Sanders supporters include a sizable number of young people, a deeper look at the Edison exit poll data from Super Tuesday shows just how pervasive this new Generation Gap is within the Democratic primary electorate. It exists in many demographic groups, and across many issues. 

First, an overall picture. Looking at all twelve of the Super Tuesday states for which there was an Edison exit poll, half of voters under age 45 voted for Sanders, while Joe Biden was the winner among voters 45 and older. 

These age differences persist regardless of other demographic variables. Whether one looks at white voters, college graduates or those without a degree, men or women, voters under age 45 supported Sanders and those 45 and older chose Biden. Only among black voters do both age groups support Biden and even there his support is much higher among older voters. 

Not surprisingly, Sanders’ support is highest among voters under 30 (58%).  Sanders’ support drops sharply among those 65 and older (15%).   

There is a generation gap on issues as well. Voters over age 45 are more moderate, and more apt to prefer a return to the policies of Barack Obama.  And while both age groups chose health care as the most important issue in their vote choice, older voters are far less supportive of replacing private insurance with a single government plan for everyone. Younger voters also hold a more favorable view of socialism, while older voters are more divided. 

And each age group was looking for different qualities in a candidate. Among those under age 45, 48% were looking for a candidate who can bring needed change. Voters 45 and over were looking for someone who can unite the country (39%). 

Despite these differences, Democratic voters of all ages will need to unite behind a candidate in order to win in November. The exit polls show signs of unity; 80% of those under age 45, and 85% of those 45 and older, say they will vote for the Democratic nominee, regardless of who it is. One caveat – 19% of voters under 45 (and 22% of those under 30) say they will not do so, presumably if their chosen candidate is not the nominee. 

The Gender Gap 

In addition to the generation gap, there is a gender gap too. Sanders won among men, while Biden took the lead among women. Traditionally, the gender “gap” is measured by the difference in the vote between men and women for the night’s winner. Since Biden won the most votes across all twelve states, the “gap” is 5 points (30% – 35%). 

Since 1980, there has also been a gender gap in the November vote for president, as evidenced by the Edison Research national exit poll. The gap rose to double digits in 1996 and 2000, and again in 2012 and 2016. 

What’s behind the Super Tuesday gender gap? Once again, age is a factor. Men who voted were a bit younger than women voters; 38% of men were under age 45, versus 34% of women. And Sanders had greater support among those men under 45 (55%) than among women in that same age group (45%). 

Both men and women say they will unite behind the Democratic nominee in November, although women (87%) are more likely to say so than men (79%).  

Next up, Michigan (among other states), an all-important general election Rust Belt state that Sanders won in 2016. Will he do it again?