First, it’s clear that turnout was not unusual or high. Officials say it was about the same as 2016 and well below 2008 levels when Barack Obama defeated Hillary Clinton. First time caucus-goers made up only 35 percent of the vote this year according to the entrance polling, compared to 44 percent in 2016.
These facts are a real blow to Bernie Sanders’ theory of electability. The campaign has stressed Sanders’ supposedly unique ability to appeal to new voters, third-party voters, and infrequent voters. If that was true, we should have seen a big increase in the low-turnout caucuses, where even a small increase in total numbers would make a big difference. Sanders campaign had months to hyper focus his volunteer army on the state of Iowa so supporters could directly make the campaign’s unique appeal to these groups, yet these gains seemingly failed to materialize.
As expected, given the generational divide in ideology among Democrats, Sanders did very well with young caucus-goers, handily winning in several college-town precincts. But again, youth turnout seems to have been only slightly higher than previous cycles.