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With One Year Till The Election, Who Will Be The Swing Voters In 2016?

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now let's think about younger voters. They played a critical role in the last two presidential contests, and that made us wonder who these voters or potential voters are thinking about these days. So we called Professor Rachel Paine Caufield. She's a political science professor at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, which is one of the key places to be in any election year, right, professor?

RACHEL PAINE CAUFIELD: It absolutely is.

MARTIN: I understand that Drake is hosting a Democratic debate next weekend, and the Iowa caucuses are coming up in February. Just sort of off the top of your head, are there any differences that are striking you so far about this campaign season?

CAUFIELD: You know, it's always exciting when we have two competitive caucuses because then you have an opportunity for everybody to get involved. You have a lot of candidates out on the campaign trail, a lot of different ideas and different personalities. So it's a really vibrant political atmosphere in these particular years. This year, you know, we have a lot of outsider candidates, which means that we have - you know, we have the Donald Trump going to the state fair and giving helicopter rides. That's something you don't typically see, even in Iowa.

MARTIN: I wanted to talk about younger voters because that's a group that you spend a lot of time thinking about. Who are these voters, and why were they so important in these last two election cycles?

CAUFIELD: Well, I think, you know, these are new voters, first of all. But this generation of voters is different than any generation we've seen before. They're the most diverse generation of Americans ever. They are more tolerant. They're for more information savvy and tech savvy. They're also less committed to existing institutions. They're delaying marriage for significant periods of time in some cases. They're less connected to their churches and local community organizations, and they are less connected to the traditional political parties. So to some extent, they're a little bit more - more of a wildcard on the campaign trail.

MARTIN: And any sense of which younger voters or other groups are emerging as potential swing voters in 2016?

CAUFIELD: Well, I think you have this group of young voters who has not traditionally been engaged in the political process because they're pessimistic. And this is the group that Barack Obama really tried to harness in 2008 and 2012 - did a very good job of it in 2008. Whether or not the new voter nonconformist is going to - you know, is going to emerge as a really viable voting block is difficult to say precisely because they're nonconformist. (Laughter) And so it's sometimes difficult to predict exactly how they will behave within existing systems like an electoral system.

MARTIN: That was Professor Rachel Paine Caufield, speaking with us from Iowa Public Radio in Des Moines. And I will be heading to Des Moines for an NPR Presents conversation on Tuesday evening about younger voters. If you are in the area, we hope you'll come by, or you can join us on Twitter. The hashtag is #NPRYouthVote. Professor Caufield, thanks so much for speaking with us. I look forward to seeing you in Des Moines.

CAUFIELD: Thank you, looking forward to it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.