As we “all know” from listening to cable news spokesmodels, the GOP is the party of old white people. They’re a reliable bunch as voters go, and can usually be counted to show up on election day and make their voices heard. Aside from putting up with the occasional demands to get off their lawn when you’re handing out campaign literature, it’s a fairly comfortable arrangement. But Politico’s Daniel McGraw helpfully points out the one downside of building your party around this particular demographic group… they tend to die at an alarming rate.
There’s been much written about how millennials are becoming a reliable voting bloc for Democrats, but there’s been much less attention paid to one of the biggest get-out-the-vote challenges for the Republican Party heading into the next presidential election: Hundreds of thousands of their traditional core supporters won’t be able to turn out to vote at all.
The party’s core is dying off by the day.
Since the average Republican is significantly older than the average Democrat, far more Republicans than Democrats have died since the 2012 elections. To make matters worse, the GOP is attracting fewer first-time voters. Unless the party is able to make inroads with new voters, or discover a fountain of youth, the GOP’s slow demographic slide will continue election to election. Actuarial tables make that part clear, but just how much of a problem for the GOP is this?
McGraw goes on to conduct some “unofficial” research to support his claim, based pretty much entirely on what he acknowledges is a combination of anecdotal evidence and “back-of-the-napkin math.” Some of it is rather fascinating and, to be honest, Republicans shouldn’t discount it entirely. For example, citing 2012 exit polls combined with census bureau mortality rates, the author estimates that 2.75 million Romney voters will be dead by November of 2016, while 2.3 million Obama voters will have shuffled off this mortal coil. That’s not an insignificant gap, even when spread across all fifty states.
As for the voters who will be replacing them (with the exception of the horizontal Democrats in the Chicago area who will generally still be voting) the news isn’t much better in McGraw’s estimation. There were 13 million kids in the fifteen to seventeen year age bracket in 2012 who will be eligible to head to the polls next year. If the traditional average of 45% of them vote and if they split 65-35 in favor of the Democrats (as polls seem to indicate) then the Donkey party picks up 2.5 million new voters while losing fewer to attrition than the GOP. That’s a total spread of roughly 3 million people. So if these calculations are correct, why should Republicans even bother to get out of bed in the morning?
Well, first of all, there are an awfully large number of “ifs” in those sentences. Life spans in the United States continue to increase, so the older voters may be stubbornly sticking around longer than Democrats might wish. Also, just taking a general swath of how many people are dying doesn’t indicate how many of them were active voters. The same questions apply to the millennials coming up into the mix. Predictions tend to be sketchy things.
But since we’re relying on anecdotal evidence anyway, I have to wonder how much truth there is to the “Party of the Old People” meme in the first place. Did any of you attend CPAC or Right Online this year? Yes, there were some crusty old dinosaurs like me hobbling around to be sure. But the big crowds who were packing the seminars and the sports bars looked decidedly less geriatric.
Look through John Hawkins’ collection of photos. It’s not exactly the old age home.
Sure, this is anecdotal as well, but the people I see swelling the crowds at conservative events contain vast numbers of young, energized activists. Honestly, I don’t think the GOP is dying off at all. In fact, a decade or so of Democrat control in Washington is probably doing more to spawn a new generation of young conservatives than the most aggressive grassroots outreach movement could ever manage.