While there seems to be a lot more talk about young adults voting in the next election, older Americans are still a force to be reckoned with. They make up a significant portion of the adult population, 32% to be exact, and they have a better voter turnout record than their more able-bodied cohorts, making up 36% of the electorate population in the last election.
Here are some good theories and patterns of cast votes, which may not be able to determine the outcome of 2016’s presidential race, but could still provide valuable input on where we may be heading as a nation as older Americans wield their power at the ballot box.
Older Americans Vote More
To understand why older Americans’ voting patterns are important, it is important to understand just how politically active and large this voting group is. According to a 2012 study by Harvard and Yale researchers on voting registration and age correlation, 90% of all Americans aged 60 and older are registered to vote. Only 75% of adults aged 18 to 30 are registered. Another significant fact is that by the year 2018, there are expected to be more senior citizens than children aged five and under. The older American demographic is swelling.
Why are more older Americans registered to vote? One factor may be that younger adults are less settled in a career and have lower rates of home ownership. With more frequent moving, re-registering to vote is something that doesn’t always take top priority. Researchers claim the voluntary system of voting is part of the reason why more rooted and stable, older Americans have better turn-outs in the polls.
It could also have a lot to do with the presupposition that older Americans have a greater burden to leave the world a better place than when they inherited it. Greater “civic virtues” and more free time have also been tossed around as possible causes of elderly political participation. Yet the young Millennial generation seems to be more concerned with our future than ever before and are also shaping the world, not just the nation, we live in.
Older American Voting Trends: Donkeys vs. Elephants
It is difficult to pinpoint which party the older American demographic fits into the best because it isn’t a stable indicator. Over the years, they have gone back and forth, but always within the moderate ranges of the parties. The Pew Research Center says that overall older Americans are predominantly Republican and younger Americans lean Democratic. A 2015 report found that in 2014, Millennials (18-36) were 51% Democratic, Silent Generation Americans(69-86) were 47% Republican, while the middle generations Baby Boomers (50-68) and Generation X Americans (37-49) seemed to be split with just the slightest affinity for Democrats (yet less than the Millennials’ 51%).
The older Baby Boomers tend to lean Democratic, while the younger Baby Boomers, those closest to the Gen Xers, lean Republican.
But it isn’t always the youngest generation that pulls to the Democratic Party. In 1994, the youngest age of voting Americans was the Generation Xers who leaned Republican by 47% with Democratic just 43%. Upon a closer look at each named demographic, there is quite a lot of blurring of the party lines within the generation. The older Baby Boomers tend to lean Democratic, while the younger Baby Boomers, those closest to the Gen Xers, lean Republican.
In a 2014 partisan representation study, all across the generational board a gradual shift over the last 70 years has been occurring, shifting the entire cardiac-shaped line towards the Democratic Party.
The Bottom Line
Older Americans have a predominant, larger share of the votes among different age groups, with no sign of that trend shrinking any time soon. They are more likely to show up for primaries and other elections, but they still fit into a larger perspective of shifting American values towards the Democratic Party, the cause of which researchers can’t fully articulate and which does lend itself to accurate predictions about elections.
Ansolabehare, Stephen, Hersh, Eitan, Shepsle, Kenneth. (2012). Harvard University. Movers, Stayers, and Registration: Why Age Is Correlated with Registration in the U.S. Harvard. Available at http://scholar.harvard.edu/files/kshepsle/files/mobility_model_v6.3.pdf?m=1360041584. Last Visited February 20, 2016.
Pew Research. (2015). A Different Look at Generations and Partisanship. Available at http://www.people-press.org/2015/04/30/a-different-look-at-generations-and-partisanship/. Last Visited February 20, 2016.
Gallup. Baby Boomers to Push U.S. Politics in the Years Ahead (2014). Available at http://www.gallup.com/poll/167012/baby-boomers-push-politics-years-ahead.aspx. Last Visited February 20, 2016.