Candidates Hillary Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) participate in the Democratic Candidates Debate hosted by NBC News and YouTube on Jan. 17, 2016 in Charleston, S.C.
Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty

Where Sanders and Clinton are dominating

With the first nomination contest less than a week away, presidential hopefuls are re-doubling their efforts to mobilize key constituencies that they believe will deliver them victory in early primary states. This is particularly true on the Democratic side, where pundits have debated for months the role that young people, women and racial minorities will play in determining the party’s nominee.   

Data from our NBC News|SurveyMonkey Weekly Election Tracking poll conducted online, however, demonstrates that focusing on women and racial minorities as a voting bloc masks important differences within each group. Support for Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton certainly varies according to the race and gender of Democratic voters, but age also plays a critical role. Even though women and racial minorities are more likely to support Clinton than Sanders, Sanders dominates among younger voters in nearly every racial and gender category.

Clinton’s support among women voters is higher than that of their male counterparts in every age group, but the level of support depends on the age of the respondent: older Democrats are more likely to support the former secretary of state regardless of gender, but Sanders has a strong advantage over Clinton among younger voters. In fact, young women favor Sanders by a more than 2-to-1 margin over Clinton, and young men are nearly five times more likely to support Sanders over Clinton. While there is always more support for Clinton among women, the magnitude of the difference fades among older voters. Among older age cohorts this gender difference fades – especially among Democrats over the age of 65. 

These differences are hard to detect in conventional polls, but the large sample sizes of our Weekly Tracking polls allow us to make these deeper dives. In our most recent poll between Jan. 18 and Jan. 24, for example, we surveyed more than 8,000 registered voters, nearly 3,700 of whom self-identified as Democrats or Democratic-leaning Independents. The fact that our most recent poll has nearly 10 times the number of respondents than the average poll gives us the statistical power to not only explore the candidate choice among men and women or whites, blacks and Hispanics, but also the choice among even smaller groups—like age cohorts—within each category.

Another question is whether generational differences are evident within different racial groups. To explore this question we combine our last four weekly surveys to give us the opinions of 13,000 registered Democrats who were surveyed between Dec. 28 and Jan. 24. Overall, non-white Democrats strongly favor Clinton over Sanders by large margins, but white voters are nearly evenly split in their support – 46% support Clinton and 44% support Sanders.

Again, age plays an important role. Clinton does much better with older voters across all racial groups, but white Democrats under the age of 45 and young Hispanics (18-24) are more likely to support Sanders. 

These results have important implications for media coverage of the campaign and for the outcomes themselves. First, speculating solely about on each candidate’s ability to capture the “women’s vote” or the “Hispanic vote” in the primaries does not provide a fully accurate portrait of important differences within each group of voters. Support for Clinton and Sanders vary in important ways by both age and gender or age and race. Secondly, Sanders’ ability to mobilize young men and women will be crucial. Clinton’s strongest base of support is among older voters—across all gender and racial divides—and these individuals historically turn out at much higher rates than their younger counterparts. For both candidates, closing “enthusiasm” gaps will be crucial. Ultimately, depth of support is just as crucial as breadth to victories in Iowa, New Hampshire and beyond.

Hannah Hartig and Stephanie Psyllos contributed to this article.

Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton

Where Sanders and Clinton are dominating