Democratic Primary Voter Demographic Shifts and Candidate Coalitions

We are 44 states and 27 exit polls into the Democratic primary race. It is not over yet with 930 delegates to be selected, six states, Puerto Rico, and DC remaining, but from a pollster’s perspective, “the fat lady has sung”.  Now it is time for a final review. With no exit polls expected to be conducted in the final primary states, we can look at the completed set of exit poll data and make some important observations about the Democratic primary electorate.

Looking at the composition of the Democratic electorate this time compared to 2008, the Democratic party becomes even more diverse as the proportion of the white vote dropped this cycle. The other most important demographic shifts include the following:

-An increase in the percentage of the youngest and oldest voters;

-A decrease in the proportion of voters with a high school degree or less education; and

-A shift away from moderate/conservative towards liberal/very liberal ideology voters.


The below table highlights the composition of the Democratic primary electorates of 2008 and 2016.

2008 v 2016

This race also showed profound differences between the two candidates’ coalitions as seen in the tables below detailing the top performing sub-groups for both Clinton and Sanders. The tables also include the proportion of that group within the Democratic primary electorate overall.

Clinton’s support comes from African Americans, older voters, Democrats, those with a high school degree or less education, women, and moderates/conservatives.

Sanders’ support comes from the youngest voters, voters who want policies different than Obama’s, Independents, and voters most concerned with income inequality.

Here are the detailed findings:

top sub group tables

As noted in an earlier blog post, Sanders’ poor performance among Democrats has long predicted his problems in winning the nomination. Among the 27 states in which there were exit polls, he averaged losing Democrats 36{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} to Clinton’s 64{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}.

sanders dems

Sanders did so poorly with Democrats that, despite winning  20 of the 44 primaries and caucuses so far, the only states where he won a majority of Democrats were his home state of Vermont (82{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) and neighboring New Hampshire (52{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}).  His other 18 wins came thanks to Independents.

Public Opinion Strategies