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Bernie Sanders’s coalition of Latinos and young voters wasn’t enough to help him win in Tuesday’s primaries

Sanders maintained his support among his core constituencies, but they couldn’t compete with Joe Biden’s surge.

Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks to reporters in Dearborn, Michigan on March 10, 2020.
Salwan Georges/The Washington Post via Getty Images
Nicole Narea covers politics and society for Vox. She first joined Vox in 2019, and her work has also appeared in Politico, Washington Monthly, and the New Republic.

Bernie Sanders has successfully built a coalition of young voters and Latinos of all age groups that has powered strong performances in states like Nevada and California, but these voters just weren’t enough to deliver wins for the Vermont senator during Tuesday’s primaries.

Sanders did perform well among his core constituencies: He won about 76 percent of voters under age 30 and 53 percent of Latinos across the six states that voted, according to Washington Post exit polls. But overall, these demographics did not make up enough of the Democratic primary electorate Tuesday to give Sanders much-needed victories.

For instance, the demographics in Michigan, the state with the largest delegate trove of those voting on Tuesday and where former Vice President Joe Biden won in a landslide, didn’t play in Sanders’s favor.

Latinos make up only about 3 percent of eligible voters in Michigan and made up only 6 percent of the Democratic electorate Tuesday. Even though Sanders won 53 percent of the Latino vote in the state, that win was not enough to counter Biden winning 66 percent of the black vote, given the electorate was 18 percent black. Similarly, while Sanders won big with people aged 18-29 — carrying them by 57 percentage points — that group made up only 16 percent of voters. Michiganders aged 45-64 made up 42 percent of the electorate on the other hand, and Biden won that group by 36 percentage points.

Sanders faced a similar challenge in Missouri and Mississippi. In both states, white and black voters overwhelmingly went for Biden, and in both states, just 3 percent of the electorate is Latino. In fact, the number of Latino voters in both Missouri and Mississippi was so small, there was not enough data to fully understand who those voters cast their ballots for. Idaho also has a small Latino population; there, Latinos make up 8 percent of the electorate. In all three states, Sanders lost to Biden by double-digit margins.

And in at least one state — full exit polls have not yet come in for Washington, North Dakota, and Idaho — Biden won among young voters as well. In Mississippi, the former vice president won 61 percent of voters 17-29 and 72 percent of voters 30-44, a sign Sanders may not always be able to count on young voters going forward — particularly in states like Mississippi where many of those young voters are black.

Sanders has been able to capture the Latino vote in the Nevada, California, and Texas primary contests so far. The senator has been trying to appeal to Latino voters with a progressive policy platform on immigration, but that isn’t the only issue that motivates them. He has also been speaking to their core interests, including health care and jobs.

Starting last summer, he poured resources into spreading his message, in both Spanish and English, to Latino communities. And he hired Latino staff from the grassroots advocacy community and integrated them into every facet of his campaign. That has appeared to pay off and continued to do so Tuesday.

But Sanders just hasn’t been able to bring to fruition his promise to grow the electorate of young voters — among 12 states that voted prior to Tuesday night’s contests, young voters’ share of the electorate in 11 of those states actually decreased from 2016 to 2020. (Sanders was only able to grow that base in Iowa.)

Looking ahead to next week, Sanders’s prospects aren’t much better. Based on polls, FiveThirtyEight is forecasting that he will lose in Arizona, where Latinos make up about a quarter of the electorate, and in Florida, where voters skew older and Biden is currently besting Sanders among Latino voters by an 11 percentage point margin.

It’s not surprising that Sanders is performing poorly among Latino voters in Florida, a swing state. Whereas Mexican Americans made up the vast majority of Latino voters in those previous contests, Florida’s Latinos are primarily Cuban, Puerto Rican, and Venezuelan, and they tend to lean more conservative.

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