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Poll: Sanders soars and moderates splinter in student vote

As the moderate lane of the Democratic field splinters and clashes, Bernie Sanders has grabbed hold of the progressive wing to lead the student vote. Underlying Sanders' rise has been the slow-motion sink of Elizabeth Warren's campaign and Mike Bloomberg's quick ascent.

What's new

Sanders led the last Presidential Support Index, but only clocked in at 22-percent compared to his titanic 42-percent share of the student vote. The biggest changes other than Sanders' 20-point lift is Biden and Warren's drop-off, and Pete Buttigieg's 5-point boost.

The map ahead

A 20-point lead seems rock-solid, but Super Tuesday's results could have vital implications on candidates' strength and the size of the field. And the prospect of a contested convention or a Sanders nomination could accelerate negotiations among the party's moderate flank.

The question remains whether Bloomberg's campaign thesis will prove correct: stunt Sanders' momentum with a compelling moderate. Bloomberg's bet might backfire unless other moderates drop out and unite behind one candidate to counter Sanders. 

The bottom line

Don't expect students to catapult a moderate into contention. But, student participation is set to break records in 2020 as it did in the 2018 midterms.  So a late surge among students could help tip a viable moderate into the winner's circle if the race tightens. 

A high-level view of available polling suggests the following three scenarios are most likely:

1) Sanders tide keeps rising to capture the nomination on the first ballot

2) Moderates unite (or don't) to force a contested convention

3) One non-Sanders emerges to capture the nomination

Below are the results of the Axios/College Reaction Presidential Support Index for February:

Axios/College Reaction Poll on College Students | n=820 | Feb. 17th

Sanders 42.3% 

Trump 19.9%

Buttigieg 11.6%

Warren 10.3%

Biden 7.0%

Bloomberg 4.4%

Klobuchar 2.1%

Steyer 1.1%

Gabbard 0.9%

Weld 0.3%


Data in this report are generated from a poll conducted February 17th, 2020. A total of 820 panelists participated in the poll. The margin of error for the full sample is +/- 3.4 points.

College Reaction’s polling is conducted using a demographically-representative panel of college students from around the country. The surveys are administered digitally and use college e-mail address as an authentication tool to ensure current enrollment in a four-year institution. The target population for the general population sample was students currently enrolled in accredited 4-year institutions in the US.

Respondents in this poll were randomly selected from a respondent database, which aims to mirror the broader college demographic from a racial, geographic and political standpoint. Results are weighted to mirror race and gender statistics of the college demographic as defined by the National Center for Education statistics.


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