9 November 2012

Generational Voting Patterns for US President

Filed under: Culture — ktismatics @ 6:54 am

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

Roosevelt                                                                               Democratic

Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson                                                             Republican

Nixon                                                                                      Democratic

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.



  1. That curious piece of door furniture, the sliding bolt on a chain, is known in Ireland as ‘a Mormon lock’. You can talk to their missionaries whilst keeping them at bay


    Comment by ombhurbhuva — 10 November 2012 @ 6:19 am

  2. “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”

    That election was a special case. One of Didion’s best NYRB pieces, which is also in that anthology you had, I think (but may be retrievable at NYRB with no paywall), was about the way the issue of ‘character’ was shoved to the forefront, and that was the ‘momentum’ that time, even though Gore won the popular vote anyway, despite bad debates, etc., and wrong strategies. The momentum pretty impressive too, since Rhenquist decided to rule the world. Part of the blame can be laid at Clinton’s doorstep, of course. Gore had tried to distance himself from Clinton during the campaign. I think he just didn’t know what to make of what the new landscape was, since he’d had to support Clinton throughout the Lewinsky matter. That was the Republican conspiracy with Linda Tripp and Ken Starr & Cie., of course, and they really got away with it. It was in some ways a Europeanization of sex, though, even though Clinton tried to define sex, and this was loathsome.

    About 2003 or 2004, I saw a Mormon teenager trying to convert a black man on a Lower East Side bus. The man was jovial about it, but could barely believe it himself. He was a minister himself and had his own church. They are as aggressive as Scientologists.


    Comment by Patrick Mullins — 10 November 2012 @ 9:57 am

  3. America the Transcendent, winning the world’s hearts and minds one household at a time. Voting results for Utah for the last 5 presidential elections:

    1996 Bob Dole = 54%, Bill Clinton = 33%
    2000 GW Bush = 67%, Al Gore = 26%
    2004 GW Bush = 73%, John Kerry = 26%
    2008 John McCain = 63%, Barack Obama = 34%
    2012 Mitt Romney = 73%, Barack Obama = 25%

    So it appears that Romney got a bit of a Mormon bump in what is already the most solidly Republican state in the Union. He’s out of work now; maybe one day you’ll hear a knock on the door…


    Comment by ktismatics — 10 November 2012 @ 10:09 am

  4. The other morning on my walk I saw coming toward me two teenaged lads wearing white shirts and unpatterned dark ties — not a popular look in these parts. “Mormon missionaries?” I asked them as we approached each other, smiling so as not to appear too disagreeable. “Good morning,” the kid on the left replied, also smiling. Maybe they didn’t get my remark, or maybe they did. When I was in college a friend and I invited the door-to-door missionaries inside for discussion — I don’t believe we offered them any hot beverages. Over the next few weeks they gave us the full 5-session Mormon 101 class. It made for fairly entertaining conversation, though they seemed bent on converting traditional Christians rather than atheists/agnostics.

    Clinton is back, his dalliance now seeming as quaint to young Americans as it did to Europeans at the time. I can’t see GW Bush coming out of mothballs to stump for the 2016 candidate.


    Comment by ktismatics — 10 November 2012 @ 10:35 am

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