The Age Factor in the Race

With the Pennsylvania results looming, I thought I would point out a terrific story and graphic on the generation gap between followers of Obama and Clinton that might help explain results tonight.

In a campaign where demographics seem to be destiny, one of the most striking factors is the segregation of voters by age. In state after state, older voters have formed a core constituency for Mrs. Clinton, who is 60, while younger voters have coalesced around Mr. Obama, who is 46. Age has been one of the most consistent indicators of how someone might vote — more than sex, more than income, more than education. Only race is a stronger predictor of voting than age, and then only if a voter is black, not if he or she is white.

The graphic below gives the data to visually back up the claim. It’s striking how lopsided the Millennial Generation (the term we use for those voters under age 30) go for Obama, while older folks go for Clinton. Note that the numbers refer to the percentage point difference between what each candidate received. So young people went 75 percent to 25 percent for Obama in Virginia, while people over age 60 went 60 percent to 40 percent for Clinton in Ohio.

What does that mean for Pennsylvania? It turns out Pennsylvania is the state with the second highest proportion of people over 65 – behind only the perennial leader, Florida:

Age is likely to play a particularly strong role in the Democratic primary Tuesday in Pennsylvania. The outmigration of young people has left the state with the second-highest proportion of people over 65 in the country, after Florida. Fifty-eight percent of registered Democrats are older than 45, a consistent dividing line in the race.

Regardless of the result tonight, the generational lens continues to be a fascinating one to put to this election, as we consistently do at the New Politics Institute. Just think about what happens when the other candidate is the oldest one who has ever run for office...

Peter Leyden
Director of the New Politics Institute