Political Animal


November 14, 2012 11:45 AM Time Flies, People Age—But Don’t Change Political Identities

By Ed Kilgore

One of the most obvious—yet somehow easy to forget—facts about comparing elections over time is that age cohorts age. Today’s over-65s were yesterday’s 40-64s. So when the voting patterns of an age “bracket” change, we’re not always talking about the same people, and unless you think age trumps all other voter characteristics, there’s no particular reason a given cohort should behave politically just like its predecessors or successors.

That becomes very apparent from a nugget of data offered by Harry Enten at the Guardian:

[T]hose who turned 30 over the past four years have maintained their Democratic allegiance from 2008. The conventional wisdom is that people become more conservative as they age. This isn’t borne out in the research, and 2012 is no exception. The only age group whose vote increased for Obama from 2008 to 2012 was 30-39 year-olds, as those who had formerly been 25-29 years old moved into 30-39 year-old age cohort.

That Obama did unusually well among under-30 voters in two straight elections is a very good sign for the future of the Donkey Party, as we are already seeing in the slow upward movement of pro-Democratic sentiment among age categories. That’s another problem Republicans ought to be grappling with as they seek to minimize the ideological adjustments necessary to remain competitive.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • T2 on November 14, 2012 12:01 PM:

    the GOP's voter problem has been well documented - they are losing them. The focus is currently on the Hispanic population....but the GOP's problems are greater than that....young people of all types (types meaning white and minorities), women of all types, gays of all types......all these groups are running from the 1940 mentality of the GOP as fast as they can. And there's nothing the GOP can do about it, given their policies, that won't alienate the one group they have left - old white guys. And they'll be soon receiving the hated "entitlements" Medicare and Social Security, so the GOP attack on those issues will become problematic too. The number of people voting for Republicans will continue to shrink - I just don't think they'll have a solution for that.

  • navamske on November 14, 2012 12:07 PM:

    Time flies like the wind. Fruit flies like bananas.

  • c u n d gulag on November 14, 2012 12:13 PM:

    More trouble with the Republican "Base:"
    The median age of FUX Noise viewers in 65, the average Radio Rushwanda ditto-head, and listener of other talk radio yappers, is 67.


    The vast majority of younger people don't tune into FUX, or listen to AM radio.
    Not even in when they're stuck in cars. They transport their favorite media sources with them, and aren't locked in to static media sources like TV and radio.

    The audience for FUX and Rwandan-style hate radio, is dying off.

    Another demographic strike against the GOP!

  • exlibra on November 14, 2012 12:21 PM:

    We don't get more conservative as we age; we get to be less firebrand, more pragmatic, as we learn that it's more effective to live for a cause than it is to die for it. Of course, to purists, it may look like a sell-out, hence the old canard about people growing more conservative with age.

    All the same... I *am* glad that three of my step-grandchildren, who were all too young to vote in '08, and whom I nagged into registering and voting this year (including badgering one of them to register at her college address; we needed her vote in Virginia more than in CT) had their first experience of voting be a positive one. Being on the winning side is likely to leave them with a "glow", which, hopefully, will translate into future votes. Now, to nag them all into voting at mid-terms, too...

  • martin on November 14, 2012 1:06 PM:

    The conventional wisdom is that people become more conservative as they age.

    Of course, over the last 30 years the Democratic Party has become much more conservative, so the argument that by not switching parties the recently over 30's are not getting conservative is a little suspicious. They could well be getting more conservative, just not gone batcrap crazy like the Republicans

  • bluewave on November 14, 2012 1:06 PM:

    But Andrew Kohut is claiming Republicans did better with young voters this year, and certainly there were a lot of devastated young (albeit white) faces in the Mourning in America tumblir. Any looming time bombs in there for Team Blue? We don't want to be guilty of the same myopic triumphalism we see on the other side of the aisle.

  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on November 14, 2012 1:34 PM:

    What a pity it is for the Republicans that they can't birth some Benjamin Buttons...

  • boatboy_srq on November 14, 2012 2:00 PM:

    The conventional wisdom is that people become more conservative as they age.

    The kind of senility - or early-onset Alzheimer's - that the GOTea would require, however, usually doesn't set in until at least 70. The modern GOTea is not, not, NOT "conservative": it's radical, borderline fascist, and as like to the Webster's definition of conservative as chalk is to cheese. If anything, the maturing voters are drawn to the Democratic party because it has become the conservative party - and the GOTea is goosestepping right off the wingnut cliff.

  • Zorro on November 14, 2012 4:17 PM:

    This definitely implies good things for the Democratic Party. It resembles the bond that then-young people formed w/Roosevelt and his policies during the '30s. That voting base formed the core of Democrats who established the postwar liberal consensus that really only ended w/Reagan. That was followed, of course, by the ~30 years of conservative dominance that *may* be ending now.

    Perhaps the pendulum will swing back again, so that we could see the return of liberal Republicanism (Mayor Lindsay, anyone?) or even of just moderate Republicanism (everyone liked Ike).