Senator Bernie Sanders holds rally in Davenport, Iowa, Jan. 29, 2016.
Photo by Mark Peterson/Redux for MSNBC

Will college students be Bernie’s secret weapon?


For Bernie Sanders, there is one potentially important factor that could aid his campaign at Monday’s caucuses - today’s date. This year Iowa is voting on Feb. 1, about a month later than in 2008 and 2012, when the caucuses were held on Jan. 3.

Why is that better for Sanders? Because colleges and universities across the state are past winter break and bustling with students for the spring semester. And poll numbers show that Mr. Sanders owns that segment of the Iowa population. In this weekend’s Des Moines Register poll, Mr. Sanders had 63 percent of the vote among Iowans under 35 years of age.

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Add it together and you see what could be a big advantage for Sanders Monday night.

First, it means the college-age vote is packed into a few centers, and that makes it easier to wrangle and target on Monday night.

The presidential campaign: Bernie Sanders
The self-described democratic socialist is known for pushing change on income inequality, college affordability and criminal justice reform.
Second, the numbers are significant. Consider the two biggest state universities, Iowa and Iowa State. Between them, those two schools are home to more than 50,000 undergraduate students and another 14,000 post graduates.

That’s a lot of potential votes. The University of Iowa’s student enrollment is about 20 percent of the total in in its home county, Johnson. Iowa State’s enrollment is more than a third of the total population of its home county of Story.

And keep in mind, some of that student population isn’t based in Iowa.

At both schools there is a good chunk of out-of-state students who can participate Monday night. About 45 percent of the student population at the University of Iowa and 33 percent at Iowa State is comprised of out-of-state students. (Some of that includes foreign students, who are not eligible to vote, but the majority are from the United States and do qualify.)

Keep an eye on the college town communities of Johnson and Story counties tonight. Big margins there will be crucial for Mr. Sanders if he hopes to win the state. And if he gets them, the Vermont Democrat may have the Feb. 1 date of the vote to thank.

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