The New Electorate

You will see lots of comments on the changing demography of the American electorate.  According to the Washington Post Obama bested Romney by 71%-27% among Hispanic voters, a margin that was crucial to his victories in the swing states of Ohio, Virginia, Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada.  Obama also continued to do very well among young voters, winning a clear majority among those under 40 and doing especially well with voters in their 20s.   Given that Hispanics are the fastest growing group in the U.S. population, pundits are already writing obituaries for the Republican party.

However, this analysis overlooks another, even faster-growing group in America — seniors.  Over the next ten years, as baby-boomers retire, the number of seniors among the non-Hispanic white population will boom.

If younger voters grow more conservative as they age, Republicans will have a chance to revive in future elections.  Between 2010 and 2015, the US Hispanic population aged 20 and over will increase by 5.4 million, according to the U.S. census.  But the number of non-Hispanic whites 55 and older will increase by 6.5 million, while the number of non-Hispanic whites aged 20 to 54 will shrink by 3.4 million.  That’s a swing of 9.9 million potential voters from younger to older age groups, almost twice as large as the projected increase in the Hispanic adult population.

That trend will continue through this decade.  Between 2015 and 2020, the number of non-Hispanic white Americans between age 20 and 54 is projected to shrink by a further 3.6 million, while the number 55 and over is projected to increase by another 5.4 million, an additional swing of 9 million.  Meanwhile, the number of Americans of Hispanic origin aged 20 and up is projected to grow by 5.8 million during these years.  So the shift in age structure will still outweigh the increase in Hispanics.

While older voters in recent elections have voted strongly Republican, that may not last.  It could be that current seniors had their voting preferences formed in the Reagan years and are carrying those preferences forward, while tomorrow’s seniors might carry forward the pro-Democratic leanings of their young adult years.  And it may be that Obama’s health care policies win converts.  Yet it is clear that the number of voters who will be worrying about Medicare and Social Security and the government’s ability to pay for those benefits will be the fastest-growing portion of the electorate for the next decade.

This means that if Republicans can cut into the Democrats’ current huge lead among Hispanic voters, and increase their existing lead among older voters, demography could turn in their favor in 2016 and beyond.

About jackgoldstone

Hazel Professor of Public Policy at George Mason University
This entry was posted in U.S. Politics and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to The New Electorate

  1. Stephen Brown says:

    Dear Professor Goldstone,

    If you are correct about the demographic changes over the next decades, then this would have profound effects on voter turnout and the poll outcome.

    These observations remind me of a panel discussion I attended last week at the Henrich-Boell Foundation. Jonathan Lawrence, who is currently a non-resident fellow at the American Academy, spoke about the role of minorities in the US elections. The panel then juxtaposed the situation in the US against that in Germany, in which a member of parliament who leads a subcommittee on immigrant rights spoke about political activism within the Turkish community. Although the discussion turned tenuous at times, it provided a great angle by which to understand multiculturalism and democratic governance in Germany.

    In case you care to read into this further, here is Lawrence’s online blog:

    Best wishes, Stephen Brown Berlin School of Economics & Law

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