18-29-Year-Olds Likely Democratic Primary Voters Prefer Sanders, Biden to O’Rourke in Harvard IOP Youth Poll




At this point in 2016 cycle, Sanders polled at 2% in youth poll, he now leads field with 31%, with Biden at 20%, and Beto O’Rourke at 10%

Poll finds gender, education, ethnicity, and race create sharp divides in support for Biden, Sanders, and O’Rourke

Cambridge, MA – A new national poll of America’s 18- to 29- year-olds by the Institute of Politics (IOP) at Harvard Kennedy School finds Sen. Bernie Sanders (31%) leads among likely young Democratic presidential primary voters, with former Vice President Joe Biden (20%) in second place, and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (10%) in third place.  One in five (20%) of likely young Democratic presidential primary voters remain undecided in the Presidential election.

“Proving that young voters see more than age, it’s notable that the candidates with the most experience in government service are leading a diverse field at this early stage in the process,” said John Della Volpe, Director of Polling for the Institute of Politics.  “Compared to this point in the last presidential cycle, young Democratic voters are more engaged and likely to have an even greater impact in choosing their party’s nominee.”

In a  primary field still taking shape, Sanders, Biden, and O’Rourke are trailed by Sen. Kamala Harris (5%), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (4%), Sen. Cory Booker (3%), Andrew Yang (2%), Mayor Pete Buttigieg (1%), former Sec. Julian Castro (1%), Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (1%), Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (1%), Gov. Jay Inslee (1%) and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (1%). Several other candidates polled at less than one percent at this early stage.

Interviews of likely Democratic presidential primary voters were conducted between March 8 and March 20, 2019 and the margin of error for this portion of the sample (n=934) was +/- 4.5% with a 95% confidence interval.  The full poll of all 18 to 29-year-olds includes more than 3,000 interviews and will be released later this month.

Among young Americans who say they will definitely vote in the primary, we find sharp changes in support based on gender, education, race, and ethnicity.


Among young males in the sample who say they will definitely vote in the primary,  Sanders (33%) leads Biden (16%) by 17 points, with O’Rourke at 11 percent, and Harris at 3 percent.  Among young women, Sanders’ lead narrows to 5 points (29% Sanders - 24% Biden), with O’Rourke in third with 9 percent, followed by Harris with 7 percent.


Sen. Sanders leads former Vice President Biden by 11 points among whites (31%-20%), by 19 points among Hispanics (38%-19%), but is in a statistical tie with young African-American voters, trailing by one point (25% Biden - 24% Sanders). There is no statistical difference in support for O’Rourke.


The race is statistically tied among college students with 25 percent supporting Sanders, 23 percent for Biden, and 25 percent who remain undecided. No other candidate receives more than 8 percent of the share.  

In contrast, likely Democratic voters who are not enrolled in a four-year college or university and do not have a degree, favor Sanders by 25 points.  The Vermont Senator polls at 41 percent to Biden’s 16 percent. O’Rourke polls at 12 percent with this cohort, with no one else receiving more than 4 percent.

The full results of the IOP’s Youth Poll will be revealed next month and surveys attitudes related to civic engagement, foreign policy, trust in institutions, specific issues and policies associated with the Green New Deal, and “democratic socialism.” This poll is the 37th release in a series dating back to 2000 that has tracked the youth vote going through several Presidential cycles in primaries. Notable highlights include:

  • In the Harvard IOP Spring 2015 survey (among likely voters ages 18-29) of the still forming Democratic primary field, we found Hillary Clinton (53%) with a sizable lead over potential candidates Joe Biden (10%), Elizabeth Warren (8%), Bernie Sanders (2%), Martin O’Malley (2%), and Jim Webb (1%), with 24% undecided.  

  • By the December 2015 poll release, the race had shifted significantly.  Bernie Sanders held a narrow lead over Hillary Clinton, 44 percent to 41 percent, with 14 percent undecided.  In the spring 2016 release, Sanders’ favorable rating among all Democrats was 77 percent, his unfavorable 12 percent (6:1 ratio).  In the same poll, Clinton’s favorable rating among Democrats was 65 percent, with her unfavorables at 30 percent (2:1 ratio).

  • At this point in 2007, we found in our poll of likely Democratic primary voters between 18- and 24- years old, then-Senator Barack Obama in the lead with 37 percent, followed by Senator Hillary Clinton (31%), John Edwards (8%), Dennis Kucinich (3%), Chris Dodd (1%), Bill Richardson (1%), and Joe Biden under 1%.

This poll of N=3,022 18- to 29- year-olds, organized with undergraduate students from the Harvard Public Opinion Project (HPOP) and directed by John Della Volpe, was conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs using the KnowledgePanel Calibration approach. In this approach, the calibrating sample was provided by the KnowledgePanel probably-based sample source, while the sample to be calibrated was provided by non-probability, opt-in web panel sample sources.  Interviews were conducted between March 8 and March 20, 2019. The margin of error for the total sample is +/- 2.64 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level.


About the Institute of Politics at Harvard Kennedy School

The Institute of Politics at Harvard Kennedy School was established in 1966 as a living memorial to President John F. Kennedy. The Institute’s mission is to unite and engage students, particularly undergraduates, with academics, politicians, activists, and policymakers on a non-partisan basis to inspire them to consider careers in politics and public service.

The Harvard Youth Poll examines the political opinions and civic engagement of young Americans ages 18 to 29. Since 2000, the student-led Harvard Public Opinion Project has provided the most comprehensive look at the political opinions, voting trends, and views on public service held by young Americans. The Institute blends the academy with practical politics and offers students the opportunity to engage on current events and to acquire skills and perspective that will assist in their postgraduate choices.