Nevada carries the potential to be a critical site in 2016 presidential race, particularly when it comes to young voters. Nevada will host the first Democratic primary debate this week, it will be an early caucus state, and it may be closely contested in the general election. Youth have played significant roles in previous Nevada presidential and senatorial contests. While more young Nevadans are currently registered to vote at this time in the election cycle compared to 2012, both major parties are behind where they were after election day in 2012. Youth registrations lag more among Democrats, showing that all parties have much work to do to appeal to Nevada’s youth.
Youth Have Been Key to Democratic Support in Nevada
In 2008 and 2012, both President Obama and the Democratic senatorial candidate had strong youth support. In 2012, 68% of Nevada youth voters (and 52% of all Nevadans) chose to reelect the president. Young people were also considerably more likely to support the Democratic senatorial candidate in 2012 (60% among youth, compared to 45% among all voters). While Senator Harry Reid won reelection in 2010 by 5 points, he received 59% of young voters’ support, compared to 29% for Sharron Angle. In 2004, President Bush won Nevada by 3 points but lost youth by 14 points.
According to data from the Nevada Secretary of State, Democratic youth registration lags slightly behind where it stood at the same point in the 2012 cycle. At the end of September 2011, 110,778 young Nevadans (ages 18-34) were registered as Democrats (41.9% of registered youth). In September 2015, that number was 108,651 (37.4% of registered youth). Some of this decrease could be attributed to a slight decrease in the number of young adults who reside in the state, but it may also point to a lack of outreach by parties.
It is worth noting that Democrats increased their youth registration rate by 25% between September 2011 and the 2012 election, adding over 27,000 new young registrants in time for the November vote. The challenge for Democrats in this cycle will be to match or exceed that increase. Meanwhile, since the November 2012 election, Republican youth registration has decreased by 11%, and the number of youth registering but choosing not to affiliate (i.e. nonpartisan) has risen somewhat.
Campaign outreach and contact is a key factor in mobilizing young people. Turnout among youth in presidential elections corresponds with the rate of major campaign contact. Between 1996 and 2008, Nevada youth turnout in presidential elections rose by 21 points, but went down in 2012. Even though an enormous amount of money was spent on campaigns in 2014, national turnout was low among all ages in 2014, and national youth turnout was especially and historically low, with millions of young people under-mobilized. It will be a challenge for both parties to reverse that trend, and young people’s distaste for hyper-partisan politics may necessitate more investment in non-traditional tactics besides television ad buys.