How did that happen? Did that much change in two years?
What can we expect in the mid-term elections this November?
This chart explains a lot of what is going on. It shows voter turnout by age segment since 1964. Go here if you want to view a larger version of the chart.
First, it shows that the electorate has gotten increasingly older over time. In 1964, even before the Baby Boomers became voter eligible, 51 million in the age 18-24 cohort cast ballots. However, they were still outnumbered by those age 65 and over that were voting. 66 million seniors cast ballots in 1964.
In 2012, 70 million people age 65 and over cast ballots compared to 38 million between the ages of 18-24. The clear trend over the last fifty years is that there are more seniors voting than ever before (the primary reason is that there are many more age 65 and older Americans than ever) and fewer young people voting.
Are you beginning to understand why it is so hard for any politician to think about proposing any changes to Social Security and Medicare?
The other thing that stands out to me in the chart is the significant volatility in voting patterns of young voters between mid-term and Presidential election years. Only 45%-60% of young voters in a Presidential election year will typically bother to cast a ballot two years later. On the other hand, you can count on 85%-88% of those age 65 or older who voted in the Presidential election to be at the polls in the mid-terms.
Why did the Democrats get hammered at the voting booth in 2010? Voter turnout for those aged 18-24 was less than 20 million (45%) compared to the 44 million who turned out in 2008. At the same time, 59 million of those age 65+ who voted in 2008 showed up to vote in 2010 (a mere 9 million drop-87%).
Another way to look at it is that in 2010 there were 3 voters age 65 and over for every voter 18-24. In 2012, there were only 1.5 older voters to every younger voter. The older voter advantage was cut in half in the Obama election of 2012.
Those numbers made a huge difference between those two years.
Let's look at the numbers assuming 60% of the younger voters supported the Democrats in 2010 and Obama in 2012 (60% of voters age 24 and under in the 2012 exit poll stated they voted for Obama) and assume 56% of voters age 65 and older supported the GOP in 2010 and Romney in 2012 (that is the exit poll number for Romney in 2012).
Here are the vote totals in millions using those assumptions for these two age groups.
18-24 11.4 7.6
65+ 26.0 33.0
Total 2010 37.4 40.6 GOP wins big
18-24 26.4 17.6
65+ 29.9 38.1
Total 2012 56.3 55.7 Obama beats Romney
The GOP won big in 2010 because younger voters did not vote. Obama won in 2012 because 24 million more young voters turned out compared to only 9 million more senior voters turning out compared to what they did two years earlier. That larger turnout resulted in a net increase of 4 million votes (from a losing margin to a winning margin) for the Democrats from 2010 to 2012. How big was that? Obama beat Romney by 5 million total votes.
Why is all of this important in 2014? It says to me that the 2014 mid-term elections are going to be determined by two major factors-turnout and Obamacare. Obamacare remains deeply unpopular among older voters (most polls shows 60% disapprove in the age 65+ cohort). Looking at historical voting patterns this spells trouble for the Democrats unless they can energize younger voters to vote in 2014. Voters under the age of 30 are the only age group that has positive views towards Obamacare.
Right now I like the odds for the GOP in November if they keep talking about the ills of Obamacare. They need to ignore anyone in their own ranks who says that it is time to accept Obamacare as the law of land.
There may be truth to that from a policy perspective that repealing Obamacare is a dead horse but that is totally wrong from a political perspective. The polls indicate that it still is a very powerful emotional issue with voters (especially those who are opposed) and it remains the one issue that will get people to turn out to vote.
And although it might make sense for Republicans to be looking for ways to "fix" or "amend" Obamacare from a policy perspective, that position has no legs politically. People vote "yes" or "no", they don't vote to fix something when they are not sure what the fix is.
In addition, the VA Scandal has just provided yet another opportunity to talk about the problems inherent in government-run healthcare. How long will it be until you are put on a wait list by some government bureaucrat? That is a pretty powerful question to be asking older voters.
My advice to Republicans is simple. Obamacare is a gift horse, not a dead horse. Don't spend time talking about fixing it, keep talking about getting rid of it. The numbers above don't lie. The 2014 elections will be determined by the ratio of older voters to younger voters. It is that simple.