New York Primary Voter Turnout Should Worry Bernie Sanders & Here's Why
There are three candidates with strong New York ties running for president this year, so it goes without saying that the New York primary is incredibly important for the presidential hopefuls. Although the New York primary is arguably one of the more important primaries for the candidates this year, voter turnout history in the Empire State has been consistently low, according to data from the State Board of Elections. In light of this, New York primary voter turnout should worry Bernie Sanders — whose supporter base is largely under 45 years old — because studies have found that young people are less likely to vote.
The April 19 primary projections showed Hillary Clinton beating Sanders by nearly 13 percentage points, but in past primaries, Sanders has pulled off an unexpected win. Sanders has upset Clinton in the past when he was trailing by 21 percentage points, so he could do the same at the New York primary. However, low voter turnout could be detrimental to Sanders' performance this time around.
Take the Iowa caucuses as an example, where Sanders won 84 percent of the millennial vote, proving that young people have overwhelmingly supported Sanders over Clinton. But as The Economist put it, "Few are as uninterested as the young," and that could hurt Sanders in the upcoming primary.
In 2010, the voter turnout of people aged 18 to 24 was just 21 percent in the midterm election, according to The Economist. Low voter turnout in New York combined with a history of an especially low voter turnout among young voters could be problematic for a hopeful Sanders wanting to win the New York primary.
Only time will tell if young voters will head to the polls for the primary, but state registration rules may have prevented them from even having the chance to participate this year. Although the State Board of Elections data showed that the number of registered has increased over the years — from 7.4 million in 1974 to 11.8 million in 2014 — there has been a voter registration controversy in New York. This year, reportedly more than 3 million people were barred from voting because of the state's voter registration rules, according to the New York Daily News.
New York has a closed primary, which means that only people registered with a party can vote and they can only vote for candidates running for their party. The registration deadlines are strict in New York: First-time voters had through March 25 to register, but those already registered who wanted to change their party affiliation had to register with a new party by October 2015. These laws have allegedly prevented 3.2 million people from voting in the state's primary.
In 2014, only 29 percent of eligible New York voters participated in the midterm elections, according to New York Daily News, ranking New York 46th for voter turnout in the U.S. Similarly, in 2008, only 19 percent of New York voters participated in the primary ahead of that year's presidential election. Vox released a video on April 18 that tried to explain why the voter turnout in New York is so low, specifically asking Sanders supporters for their thoughts on the issue.
Although Sanders has consistently led Clinton in attracting support from younger voters, he could be in trouble if less than 20 percent of voters participate in this year's primary like they did in 2008. With an overall lower voter turnout among the general population and considering voter turnout among youth has typically been low, Sanders' chances of winning the April 19 primary could be shot if the state has another record-low voter turnout this year.
Since 2008, both voter registration and participation among people ages 18 to 24 has declined; in 2008, 53.4 percent of this demographic was registered to vote, but that dropped to just 49.4 percent in 2012, according to the U.S. Census Bureau and Child Trends Data Bank.
This year, 52 percent of the Democratic votes are projected to come from New York City, which also wouldn't be great for Sanders, who has been trailing behind Clinton among voters in the city. Sanders should be worried if the New York primary ends up with low voter turnout and a majority of voter participation from metropolitan areas; his polling numbers are highest among suburban areas and young, college-aged people, a demographic that has consistently (since 1964) voted at lower rates than any other age group, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
However, there might be one silver lining for Sanders: Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the state has seen unprecedented online voter registration — nearly 41,000 people submitted applications between March 10 and March 20. Nearly half of these new voters indicated that they had never voted before, which is a demographic that Sanders has attracted in previous states and one that could help him win the primary if they go out to vote. If these voters prove the U.S. Census Bureau statistics wrong and have more than half of their eligible voters participate in the election, then Sanders could possibly win New York.
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