Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Impact of Demographics on the 2016 Election

Updated October 2016

An interesting brief by William Frey at the Brookings Institute looks at how demographics is impacting the American political scene.  This demographic divergence is becoming particularly critical as the age of the candidates offering for President of the United States bridges the gap across two generations, from the early forties to the later sixties.

In the last two presidential elections, young voters and those from racial minorities tended to vote for the Democrats while older voters tended to vote for Republicans.  As well, the presidential candidates of both parties tended to reflect their respective party bases; the younger Barak Obama and the older John McCain and Mitt Romney.  In 2012, President Obama received 80 percent of the minority votes that were cast and Mitt Romney received ninety percent of his votes from white voters.  This voting support difference can be explained using this graphic:

President Obama won a larger proportion of the votes of those under the age of 45 with a 23 percent margin for voters between the ages of 18 and 29 and a 7 percent margin for voters between the ages of 30 and 44.  Mitt Romney won a larger proportion of the voters 45 years of age and older with a 4 percent margin for voters between the ages of 45 and 64 and a 12 percent margin for voters aged 65 and older.

Why did this happen?  This voter distribution occurred largely because racial minorities are more heavily represented among younger voters, creating what William Frey refers to as a cultural generation gap.  This gap is growing more significant; for the most part, baby boomers grew up in a time of low immigration and segregated minorities that resulted in a society that was relatively homogenous, particularly during the 1950s and early 1960s.  As white baby boomers and as those Americans who are older than the baby boomers (the Silent Generation born between 1928 and 1945) have aged, they have become more concerned with their economic well-being, becoming a more conservative group and, in general, have become far more angry with the government and more concerned about "big government" than either Gen Xers or Millennials as shown on this graphic from Pew:

It is interesting to see that the Silent Generation, who make up 17 percent of all voters and are 79 percent non-Hispanic whites, have become increasingly discontent.  They are the whitest of the generations and the least accepting of immigration and interracial marriages as shown on this graphic:  

In contrast, the younger and more racially diverse generations are quite happy with greater government intervention in their lives, in part, because employment opportunities are not as abundant as they were during the 1960s and 1970s.  As well, since the majority of the Gen X and Millennial generations have been exposed to greater numbers of immigrants, they are more open to both immigration reform and interracial marriages.

The 2016 presidential election cycle will be somewhat different with a white baby-boom senior representing both the Republicans and the Democrats.  Both candidates will have to work to get the votes of younger Americans who feel that they have been disenfranchised by the party elite.

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