Don’t Cheer the Reaper

An interesting if dubious article at Politico Magazine today bids fair to become one of those underground classics that subtly affects perceptions long after everyone forgets the details. Daniel J. McGraw starts thinking about the differential effect of mortality for a party like the GOP that relies disproportionately on older voters and does a back-of-the-envelope calculation that the Republican base is visibly dying off:

By combining presidential election exit polls with mortality rates per age group from the U.S. Census Bureau, I calculated that, of the 61 million who voted for Mitt Romney in 2012, about 2.75 million will be dead by the 2016 election. President Barack Obama’s voters, of course, will have died too—about 2.3 million of the 66 million who voted for the president won’t make it to 2016 either. That leaves a big gap in between, a difference of roughly 453,000 in favor of the Democrats.

As Michael McDonald suggests on Twitter, the idea that old folks are dying at uniform rates, however, defies what we know about premature deaths among poor and minority groups (many, of course, die before they reach senior status).

McGraw concedes the impact of the alleged “death gap” is entirely speculative:

[T]he key question is whether these election death rates will make any real difference. There are so many other variables that dead voters aren’t necessarily going to be a decisive factor.

Uh, yeah. Even if you buy McGraw’s math, the GOP’s “death deficit” amounts to about one-third of one percent of the electorate. I do think there’s something to be said for taking a good look at the generational change within the over-65 vote, in which less pro-GOP baby boomers are replacing a profoundly conservative Silent Generation.

But for those who are convinced Republicans are in some sort of demographic death spiral, the temptation will be strong to take it a bit too literally and believe that even in a four-year interval the GOP has bought itself a ticket to the boneyard. Don’t count on it.

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.