How America voted in 2016: A generational divide?

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Based on CCES data, we know the following about the 2016 outcome:

  • 27.5% of Hillary Clinton's voters were 35 years old or younger but this number masks how popular Clinton was among the voters in this group. It turns out that over 57 percent of Americans under 36 voted for Clinton.
  • Among those who voted for Trump, only 16% were in the same age group (18-35 years). 42% of Trump voters were 60 years old or older (compared to 32.4% of Clinton voters).

The shares reported here are, of course, estimates. While the CCES suggests that nearly 6 in 10 young people voted for Clinton in 2016, exit polls (shown below) suggest the share was slightly lower: 55%.

Breakdown of age groups by candidate


Breakdown of the vote by age group


Ideology and age

There is a view that young voters are typically liberal, and therefore can be expected to vote for Democratic candidates.

But the proportion of conservatives among young people is larger than popular stereotypes would suggest:


And moderates are a substantial group (across all age groups) as well.

It is true that 70% of young moderates voted for Clinton in 2016, so the general view about younger people gravitating toward Democrats seems right. But it doesn't mean people in this age group necessarily like to call themselves Democrats.

Actually, fewer than half of young Americans identify as Democrats:


The code for all of VOTER-Study-based calculations is posted on Github.

To add a few numbers -- in separate calculations (based again on 2016 VOTER Survey), I found 36% of Clinton voters identified themselves as moderate. Slightly over 6% of Clinton voters said their were conservatives. Among Trump voters, 26% stated they were moderate and more than 65% said they saw themselves as conservative.

One last look at ideology

The cumulative (2006-2017) CCES file is probably now the largest dataset containing information on people's ideology in the U.S.

It confirms what we saw in the VOTER Survey: over one in five young Americans call themselves either conservative or very conservative:


CNN Exit poll

The CNN polls mostly corroborate the patterns above.

Based on exit polls, we can say that in 2016:

  • Most people over 44 years of age voted for Trump in 2016.
  • Only 36% of people aged 29 or less voted for Trump.


Age and party

Party ID is, not surprisingly, more important than age. Most Democrats over 64 voted for Hillary Clinton (but about 15% voted for Trump). Almost no Democrats in the 18-30 age group appear to have defected.

Among Independents, age was a pretty good predictor of vote choice. Nearly 70% of Independents over 64 supported Trump, and Clinton lost by a wide margin also in the preceding age group (those aged 50-64).


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