It’s been surprisingly difficult through casual googling to find statistics about presidential voting patterns by age not just in the last two elections but over a longer historical time.The most useful source I found is this report from the Pew Research Center.
In the last three presidential elections, younger voters have moved decidedly Democratic while older voters have gone more Republican. One possible interpretation: as voters age, make money, have children, etc. they become more conservative and thus more likely to vote for a Republican president. Do the data support this explanation?
Briefly, no. Americans’ presidential voting patterns tend to stay consistent over the years, shaped significantly by the broader cultural and political climate within which they turned 18. Here are the trends:
People who came of age during these administrations have tended to vote
Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson Republican
Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush Sr. Republican
Clinton, Bush Jr., Obama Democratic
Thus far the persistent generational voting effect is stronger for the youngest Democratic-leaning cohort — late Gen Xers and Millennials — than for earlier generations. So why, after 8 years of Clinton, was there no youth bounce for Al Gore versus GW Bush in 2000? Clearly the trends aren’t rock solid.
Generational voter preferences have flip-flopped over historical time, so another Republican-leaning trend among younger voters may emerge in the future. However, now the young Democratic-leaning bloc spans twenty years, comprising people aged 18-38. There aren’t many Roosevelt-era Democrats left; the next bloc to die off are the Republican-leaning “Silent Generation.”
In comparison to the generational flip-flop, the shift in the US racial and ethnic demographic is more persistent. Blacks and Latinos comprise a continually increasing percentage of voters, and historically they have tended to vote Democratic regardless of their age or generation.