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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Demystifying the High-Turnout Senior Vote

This item by J.P. Green was originally published on September 19, 2013.
Seniors over age 65 were 23 percent of the turnout in 2010, up from 19 percent in 2006. In 2006, they evenly split their votes between Democratic and Republican House candidates. In 2010, they favored Republican House candidates 59 percent to 38 percent. According to Administration on Aging, three in five people over age 65 are women. African American persons made up 8.3 percent of the older population. By 2050, the percentage of the older population that is African American is projected to account for 11 percent of the older population. In 2008, Latinos were 6.8 percent of the older population.. Minority populations are projected to be 23.6% of the elderly by 2020.
For an interesting history of senior voter turnout from 1952-2000, read Andrea Louise Campbell’s “How Policies Make Citizens: Senior Political Activism and the American Welfare State.”
Emily Brandon’s “States with the Best Older Voter Turnout” at U.S. News notes the following: “Senior citizens are much more likely than younger people to show up on election day to cast ballots. Nationwide, 61 percent of people age 65 and older voted in the 2010 election, compared to 46 percent of all citizens. Here are the states where retirees were the most likely to vote in the November 2010 election.” According to Brandon, Washington state lead in 2010 with 77 percent of over-65 voters turning out, followed by: ME (76%); MT (74%); ND (75%); CO (74%); WI (72%); SD (70%); MN (70%); OR (71% of over 75); AK (69%).
In another article Brandon notes, “But even in the states with the lowest older voter turnout–Georgia, Virginia, and Indiana–more than half of citizens age 65 and older voted” in 2010. Perhaps Georgia and Virginia are trending purple as a partial result of lower than average senior turnout.
Hard to say how much of the following is lip-service and how much is straight talk. In 2004, Tucker Sutherland, editor of seniorjournal.com reported, “Counter to the political stereotype of seniors as single-issue, self-interested voters, a strong majority of American grandparents say they will be casting their vote this election day with the interests of their grandchildren in mind,” according to the new Ipsos-Public Affairs poll released today by the non-partisan group, GrannyVoter.org… Only 26 percent said they make up their mind on Social Security and Medicare mostly on the basis of how it will affect them in the short-term.
“As of April 2012, 53% of American adults age 65 and older use the internet or email” and “as of February 2012, one third (34%) of internet users age 65 and older use social networking sites such as Facebook, and 18% do so on a typical day,” according to a Pew Internet and American Life post, “Older adults and internet use” by Kathryn Zickuhr and Mary Madden. The figures represent a significant uptick in facebook and internet use by seniors. This could be a significant trend because “a single get-out-the-vote message sent to 61 million Facebook users on Election Day 2010 influenced 340,000 people to cast ballots when they otherwise would not have, according to the findings of a massive social experiment,” reports LiveScience senior writer Stephanie Pappas in her post, “Facebook Friends Carry Huge Influence on Voter Turnout.”
With senior voters, it’s apparently not all about bread and butter issues. As Robert H Binstock notes at Medscape.com, “During President Reagan’s first term in office, 1981-1984, he presided over a freeze in Social Security’s annual cost-of-living adjustment and proposed additional direct cuts in benefits (Light, 1985). When Reagan ran for reelection in 1984, the Democratic campaign against him highlighted these actions to portray the President as an enemy of Social Security. Yet…older voters substantially increased their support for Reagan from 54% in 1980 to 60% in 1984, paralleling the large increase provided by the electorate as a whole.” Of course the difference could also be attributed to incumbency.
Here’s how photo i.d. laws reduce senior voter turnout. An estimated 18% of seniors don’t have identification, according to Jodeen Olguín-Tayler of Caring Across Generations.
Among seniors who intend to vote, the tide appears to be turning blue. In “Why Seniors Are Turning Against The GOP” DCorps’s Erica Seifert reports, “There’s something going on with seniors: It is now strikingly clear that they have turned sharply against the GOP…In 2010, seniors voted for Republicans by a 21 point margin (38 percent to 59 percent). Among seniors likely to vote in 2014, the Republican candidate leads by just 5 points (41 percent to 46 percent.)…Seniors are now much less likely to identify with the Republican Party. On Election Day in 2010, the Republican Party enjoyed a net 10 point party identification advantage among seniors (29 percent identified as Democrats, 39 percent as Republicans). As of last month, Democrats now had a net 6 point advantage in party identification among seniors (39 percent to 33 percent)…–More than half (55 percent) of seniors say the Republican Party is too extreme, half (52 percent) say it is out of touch, and half (52 percent) say the GOP is dividing the country.”
Brent Roderick’s “Identify and Reach Senior Citizen Voters” at the Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI) ArcWatch focuses on a “geospatial” approach to segmenting America’s nearly 40 million eligible voters over 65. Rooted in “the theory that people seek and live near others with the same tastes, lifestyles, and behaviors,” ESRI helps clients target such senior segments as “Prosperous Empty Nesters,” “Rust Belt Retirees,” “Senior Sun Seekers” and the “Social Security Set.” Hey, it might be fun to look at “Aquarian Elders” (older hippies).

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