Realignment of the Senior Citizen Voting Block

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In a report issued earlier this week, the Gallup organization, which has been charting partisan affiliation by age since 1992, detected clear voter behavior shifts. Among senior citizens, defined as those in the aged 65 and older group, a plurality is now aligned with the Republican Party. According to Gallup, 48 percent of this group identifies with the GOP as compared to 45 percent who affiliate with Democrats. In 1992, when this individual voting segment was much younger, the split was 53-39 percent in the Democrats’ favor.

Among the remaining voters in the aged 18-64 category, the Dems have made serious gains. While this group, when younger in the early 1990’s, broke 46-45 percent Democratic, they now have expanded that affinity margin to 48-40 percent while growing older.

The swing within the senior group, however, is more dramatic, particularly when considering that Democrats held the advantage with them from 1992 all the way to 2009. The senior group is of enhanced importance because the individuals contained in this demographic subset have the highest voter participation level. And, in a lower turnout midterm election, scoring big with this sector could mean the difference between winning and losing for a great many candidates.

The Gallup study may be indicative of why the Democratic strategy of attacking the Republicans for “cutting” Social Security and Medicare may not be gaining as much traction as they originally projected. In addition to the conclusions presented in this study, further evidence came to the surface in the Florida special congressional election that elected Republican David Jolly (R-FL-13) over favored candidate Alex Sink (D) on the western Tampa Bay peninsula back in early March.

Sink, the Democratic Party, and their allies hit Jolly long and hard over the Social Security privatization issue. And, why not? Lobbying for a group that was exploring ways of privatizing the government retirement program, a repeated charge that Jolly never denied, the GOP standard bearer should have been an easy target for such a message to score big points. The fact that he was still able to carry the Democratic-leaning district that ranks sixth of the 27 Florida House districts in population over age 65, says that the attack largely became irrelevant. With such a result in this Florida district, the Democratic strategists may need to develop a more effective line of attack as the election cycle progresses.

Examining the swings throughout the charted 22-year period, when Democrats created landslides such as in both 1996 and 2006, their vote totals within the aged 65-plus demographic segment was 53-40 percent. When Republicans scored big in 1994 and 2010, the 65-plus margin broke 48-44 percent Democratic in ’94, but switched to 49-43 percent Republican in ’10. Within the 18-64 age group demographic, Democrats commanded a 48-42 percent advantage in ’96, expanding to 51-41 percent in 2006. In the big Republican years within this same 18-64 demographic, the GOP scored a 46-44 percent edge in 1994, identical to their split in 2010.

Consistent with conclusions from every other poll, the Gallup research also finds Republicans disconnecting with racial demographic segments irrespective of age. While the non-Hispanic whites aged 65 and over break 53-40 percent Republican in terms of party affiliation, non-whites in the same age group split by an overwhelming 76-18 percent in the Democrats’ favor.

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