Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on stage at the first Democratic Presidential debate at the Wynn Las Vegas resort and casino on Oct. 12, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nev.
Photo by Mark Peterson/Redux for MSNBC

NBC News exit polls: What we learned about Democrats in 2016


NBC News Exit Polls conducted across Democratic primaries and caucuses reveal an electorate that is moving further to the political left, wanting greater economic security and fairness and seeking a nominee who is experienced and trustworthy.

  • In 2008, just under half of Democratic primary voters (46 percent) identified as liberals, compared to 62 percent this year, including a 7-point rise to 25 percent saying their political views are “very liberal.”

Despite much attention on younger voters’ support for Bernie Sanders, the NBC News Exit Polls show little differences since 2008 in the composition of the electorate by age groups. Compared to support given to Barack Obama, however, Sanders has been more successful drawing younger votes, while Clinton has intensified support among seniors.

  • In 2008, 14 percent of Democratic primary voters were between the ages of 17 to 29 compared to 16 percent this year. Senior voters accounted for 18 percent of Democratic primary voters in 2008; now they represent 21 percent.
  • In 2008, Obama was supported by 60 percent of younger voters; Sanders is now getting 71 percent of their votes. Clinton was the choice of 61 percent of seniors in 2008; now it has risen to 71 percent.

Lower rates of unemployment have not quelled worries about the economy. Fully 80 percent are worried about the economy, and more than any other single issue; four in 10 cited the economy as the nation’s top problem. More than eight in 10 Democrats also believe the U.S. economic system favors the wealthy.

  • Sanders positioned income inequality as a cornerstone campaign issue, and it resonated with Democratic primary voters. One in four Democrats said income inequality is the top problem facing the country and more than half of these voters have backed Sanders.

When Democratic primary voters were asked about important characteristics for the Democratic nominee, Clinton is the overwhelming favorite among voters who place a premium on experience (87 percent of these voters supported Clinton) while Sanders has captured three-fourths of those most value a candidate they perceive as honest and trustworthy.

  • Three in 10 Sanders supporters say they will not vote for Clinton if nominated, and a similar percentage of Clinton supporters say the same about not backing Clinton. The rest of Democratic primary voters say they are likely to support the eventual candidate.

The NBC News Exit Polls have also shown that Democrats have strongly embraced the policies of President Obama, with 53 percent wanting these policies continued and another 30 percent wanting the next president to have even more liberal policies.

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