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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

March 27: Youth Vote Midterm Falloff

As regular readers of TDS know, a baleful reality facing Democrats this year is the abiding reality of “midterm falloff” among key Democratic constituencies, particular young and minority (and particularly Hispanic) voters. At Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball today, Geoffrey Skelley ran some numbers on the phenomenon for under-30 voters, and it makes for sobering reading. Here’s how I explained it at Washington Monthly:

According to Skelley’s numbers, the “midterm falloff” in the percentage of the electorate comprised of under-30 votes from the preceding presidential election was 9.5% in 1978, 8.0% in 1982, 7.8% in 1986, 6.3% in 1990, 7.6% in 1994, 3.7% in 1998, 5.7% in 2002, 4.4% in 2006, and 6.3% in 2010. You can say it’s not as bad lately as it once was, but it’s still mighty consistent. And at the same time, thanks to the aging of the Baby Boom generation, the percentage of the midterm electorate made up of over-60 voters has risen and then stayed high. In every midterm since 1994, over-60 voters have more than doubled under-30 voters as a percentage of the electorate. The gap in presidential years is vastly lower (as recently as 1992, under-30 voters still outnumbered over-60 voters).
As Skelley notes, the reasons for the age gap in midterms are not attributable to easy-to-change shortcomings in candidate or party messages:

[S]harply lower young voter participation in midterm elections is surely a trend that predates national exit polls. Older people are simply more likely to vote in general due to a number of lifestyle factors, such as buying a house, starting a family and becoming settled in a community. Even when the 18-to-29 cohort made up a plurality (30.4%) of the country’s adult population in 1980 (the last time that was true as the Baby Boomers got older), the 1982 midterm election saw an eight-point drop in that group’s portion of the electorate from the 1980 presidential election, falling from 22.9% to 14.9%.

There are, however, low-falloff years, such as 1998 (when Democrats broke the rules by making gains in a second-term midtern) and 2006 (when Democrats ran the table). Those should be the models for Democrats this year, when they depend on young voters more than at any time in memory.

With Senate Democrats in particularly suggesting that mitigating “midterm falloff” is their top priority, they have their work cut out for them.

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