More Than a Touch of Grey

While it’s no secret that old folks significantly outnumber young folks in midterm elections, the swing in the age composition of the electorate from 2010 to 2102 to what we expect tonight is still kind of shocking. The Wall Street Journal‘s Gerald Seib sums it up succinctly:

[V]oters under the age of 30 and those over the age of 65 make up roughly equal amounts of the potential electorate. In a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released over the weekend, those groups each made up about 20% of the registered voters.

But they have markedly different political tastes. In the era of Barack Obama, young voters have become a core constituency of his Democratic Party and the group that most confounded predictions in 2012 by turning out in sizable numbers to vote for his re-election.

Voters over the age of 65, in turn, have become the most reliable age group for Republican candidates.

Here’s the rub—or at least the potential rub—for Democrats on Tuesday: When Journal/NBC News pollsters gauged which voters are likely to actually show up to cast votes, based on their interest in this year’s election and their voting history, they found that just 11% of those most likely to vote this year are under the age of 30. Meanwhile, a hefty 24% of those most likely to vote were those aged 65 and over.

In other words, though older voters are about the same proportion of the potential electorate as younger voters, they may end up casting twice as many actual votes.

If that projection holds true, it means the America that actually votes will have a slightly lower proportion of young voters than in 2010, when Republicans took back control of the House, and a slightly higher proportion of older voters. And it will be a much older electorate overall than the one that showed up for the 2012 presidential election.

So a three-point advantage for under-30 voters as opposed to over-65 voters in 2012 as a percentage of the electorate is projected to switch to a 13-point advantage for the old folks today, significantly better than their 9-point advantage of 2010. That’s more a white-washing of the electorate (in more than one sense of the term) than a mere touch of grey.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.