Just when you thought the tide was out, it turns. A Pew Research poll – and accumulating demographic data – suggest older Americans are transitioning into an electoral super-force. They will play an outsized role in 2020 and beyond. Here is why.
As the nation ages, many presume generational markers remain static. That is not necessarily so. As we age, we learn. As we learn, our preferences, perspective, and priorities change. As Americans grow older – and more of us are – they tend to reflect the generational hierarchy more than old ways. That is what research is showing.
Here are data points to ponder. The January 30 Pew poll reveals key markers.
First, the electorate is aging. We continue to see “overall aging of the electorate,” with “nearly a quarter of the electorate (23 percent) … ages 65 and older.” Notably, that “is the highest such share since 1970.” So, more “older Americans” will be poised to vote in 2020.
Second, proportionately more “older Americans” are expected to vote. Pew reports: “Since older adults are more likely to turn out to vote, it is possible that older generations will form a larger share of actual voters in 2020 than their share in the electorate.”
That is exactly what happened in 2016. Older generations tallied 43 percent of eligible voters but accounted for 49 percent of the vote. In sum, older Americans – often civically-inclined – tend to vote more often.
So, with 35 percent of Americans now over 50 – and more every day – which way will help this aging, civically-inclined group vote? While the franchise is individual, data suggests older Americans tip conservative. Liberals wish otherwise, but intuition and data are hard to argue.
Good reasons explain the tip, from family values, traditionalism, and preservation of worldly assets to unapologetic patriotism, prior military service, and heartfelt faith; from religious affiliation and deep-seated moral compass to volunteerism, capitalism, constitutionalism, limited government, and American exceptionalism, older Americans intuitively love America.
Data affirm intuition. A Gallop poll in 2015 made the point bluntly: “Older generations of Americans are much more likely to describe their political views as conservative than liberal …this includes the large baby boom generation, of whom 44 percent identified as conservative and 21 percent as liberal last year.”
In short, an unabashed, unembarrassed, unapologetic army of older Americans is afoot. Their numbers are growing. They disproportionately vote. They tip conservative. While none of this makes a presidential or congressional election foregone, it does change the calculus.
Interestingly, there are side trends – call them demographic, perhaps electoral eddies. They reinforce the growing voice of conservative older voters. On one hand, Americans are showered with liberal – even leftist – media sentiment, as outlets swoon to those banging anti-American pans, urging we re-try Marxist-Leninism. On the other hand, real things are happening.
For example, as Democratic leaders and media intentionally blur legal and illegal immigration, decry Trump’s southern security wall, and stunningly argue detaining illegal entrants for adjudication or deportation is tantamount to WWII concentration camps, something else is happening.
Naturalized Americans are speaking up. In 2020, more naturalized Americans will vote than in any modern election cycle. As Pew reports: “One-in-ten eligible voters in the 2020 election will have been born outside the U.S., the highest share since at least 1970.”
Modern media press what they hope will be a self-fulfilling prophesy, arguing that Trump restrictions on illegal immigration will frustrate naturalized Americans – who waited in line for years, learned to speak English, memorized American civil lessons, history and institutions to raise their hand in a courtroom and become Americans.
Odds are Democrats – and the media – are betting on the wrong horse. Anyone who has ever stood for a tearful naturalization ceremony knows naturalized Americans are among the most patriotic, thoughtful, patient, and often innately conservative among us.
The odd notion that naturalized Americans would vote for candidates favoring open borders, the diminished rule of law, less respect for the flag, is misplaced. Watch this cohort – in response to candidates pushing policies followed in countries they escaped – to surprise the liberals.
Then consider this. The 2020 cycle will see more eligible Hispanic (13 percent) and Black (12 percent) voters, even as the electorate remains – by self-identification – 66.7 percent white. Each of those numbers is revealing. While white voters skew older, vote more regularly, and tip conservative, an increasing number of Hispanic and Black voters – for the first time in several generations – are skewing conservative based on economic and value issues.
Thus, as reported in late 2019, an Emerson poll recorded a giant bump for Trump among both Hispanic and Black voters – 38 percent of Hispanics and 35 percent of Blacks are in Trump’s corner. These are astounding numbers, reinforcing the idea that Trump’s economic, social, and security policies are resonating with all Americans.
Competing counter-narratives notwithstanding, socio-economic indicators are causing minorities to drift away from Democratic entitlement programs, directly into the mainstream of American achievement. Just as Ronald Reagan realigned “Blue Collar Democrats” in 1984 – opening wider the door to upwardly mobile, limiting government – Trump is realigning the demographic map.
Net-net, tectonic plates are shifting. Anyone who looks away from these shifts is sure to be surprised. Older Americans are growing in number, more inclined to vote, and tipping increasingly conservative, reinforced by smaller but significant cohorts – including minorities and naturalized Americans.
What will 2020 bring? That remains an open question, of course. Americans who care – who are civically-inclined, regardless of age – must vote to make the difference. But one fact sure to animate both parties, and not missed by the Trump White House, is that older Americans are becoming a powerful electoral force. By all accounts, the tide is turning – and may soon be rushing on.