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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Will Aging GOP Just Fade Away?

Daniel J. McGraw’s Politico post “The GOP Is Dying Off. Literally.” paints an optimistic scenario for Democrats, at least those who are patient advocates of taking the long view. McGraw crunches some numbers on a napkin, and reasons:

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.
Here is the methodology, using one age group as an example: According to exit polls, 5,488,091 voters aged 60 to 64 years old supported Romney in 2012. The mortality rate for that age group is 1,047.3 deaths per 100,000, which means that 57,475 of those voters died by the end of 2013. Multiply that number by four, and you get 229,900 Romney voters aged 60-to-64 who will be deceased by Election Day 2016. Doing the same calculation across the range of demographic slices pulled from exit polls and census numbers allows one to calculate the total voter deaths. It’s a rough calculation, to be sure, and there are perhaps ways to move the numbers a few thousand this way or that, but by and large, this methodology at least establishes the rough scale of the problem for the Republicans–a problem measured in the mid-hundreds of thousands of lost voters by November 2016. To the best of my knowledge, no one has calculated or published better voter death data before.
…But what if Republicans aren’t able to win over a larger share of the youth vote? In 2012, there were about 13 million in the 15-to-17 year-old demo who will be eligible to vote in 2016. The previous few presidential election cycles indicate that about 45 percent of these youngsters will actually vote, meaning that there will about 6 million new voters total. Exit polling indicates that age bracket has split about 65-35 in favor of the Dems in the past two elections. If that split holds true in 2016, Democrats will have picked up a two million vote advantage among first-time voters. These numbers combined with the voter death data puts Republicans at an almost 2.5 million voter disadvantage going into 2016.

It’s an appealing political scenario, not that we would celebrate the demise of our adversaries — we would prefer to beat them. So don’t break out the bubbly just yet, since much depends on pro-Democratic young voters staying that way as they age There are studies that indicate most will, but there are always political wild cards that can foil the most rational analyses. Then there is the offsetting higher mortality rate for African American voters. In any case, it would be folly for Democrats to plan electoral strategy based on long-range mortality statistics.
What does make sense is for Democrats to take out an insurance policy in the form of a serious pitch to win over some senior voters. Given the retirement crisis millions of seniors are facing in the immediate future, it ought to be possible for Democrats to get a more significant share of this high-turnout demographic, especially considering the GOP’s proclivity to screw around with Social Security and 401K assets. If Democrats can peel off just 5 percent of senior voters, it could make a huge difference.

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