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May 02, 2014 10:57 AM How To Reverse the Reactionary Trend Among Old White Folks

By Ed Kilgore

So in reacting to Sasha Issenberg’s much-discussed piece on the 2014 Democratic GOTV operation, Nate Cohn doesn’t much think Democrats can do a whole hell of a lot about their “midterm falloff” problem, and wonders why that don’t just focus on winning a higher share of the votes of the old white folks who will turn out come hell or high water? After all, they were winning (or more accurately, running even among) seniors as recently as 2006, right?

Well, yes, but things have gone south for Democrats among seniors quickly and seriously since then. They lost over-65s by eight points in 2008 and by twelve points in 2012, punctuated by a 21-point loss in the last midterm election. Best I can tell, at no point during the last five years have Democrats stopped attacking Republicans over their nefarious designs towards Medicare and Social Security. It’s increasingly apparent that something about seniors, or something about their attitude towards Democrats, has changed. The Baby Boom cohort of seniors has been notoriously difficult to typecast politically, though there are some indications those born later in the Baby Boom—i.e., those just on the horizon of retirement—are more conservative than their older brothers and sisters. So unless something changes, the rightward pressure on seniors as a voting category may actually intensify.

Again, it’s important to remember that “winning” or “losing” a particular voting demographic doesn’t really matter; you don’t get or give up bonus votes for it. A vote is a vote, and margins of victory or defeat in various demographics are as important as who “wins” them. Similarly, nobody makes a choice between a “base mobilization” or a “swing voter persuasion” strategy; you obviously have to have both. No one I know of is suggesting that Democrats give old white folks the raspberry while courting reluctant-to-vote young and minority people. But it’s not clear to me what, exactly, Democrats need to be saying to older voters they are not already saying every single day. Perhaps Nate Cohn has some ideas.

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.

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