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Charles Blow: The split of the ages

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From page A6 | April 03, 2014 |

Older voters and younger voters used to be largely on the same page when they went to the polls. No more.

Gallup released two reports about the split last week. The first was called “U.S. Seniors Have Realigned With the Republican Party,” and the second was “Young Americans’ Affinity for Democratic Party Has Grown.”

The numbers were striking. Until the age of Obama, Democrats had an ideological leg up among Americans 65 and older. Then those voters shifted to give the Republicans an advantage. That advantage has held, although it’s shrinking.

On the other end of the spectrum, Republicans haven’t held an ideological advantage among Americans ages 18-29 since 1995. But for a decade, the Republican deficit was always 13 points or less. That changed in 2006 when the Democrats won control of the House and the Senate and a majority of governorships and state legislatures. This was, in part, due to George W. Bush’s sinking poll numbers and rising opposition to the wars in Afghanistan and, particularly, in Iraq. The Democratic advantage among young people since then has been 13 points or more.

The last time a Republican won the 18- to 29-year-old vote in a presidential election was 1988, when 52 percent voted for George H.W. Bush over Democrat Michael Dukakis, who carried only 10 states and the District of Columbia.

Since pollsters began compiling records of voting by age, the only time that Republicans have won the 18- to 29-year-old vote nationwide in the races for the House of Representatives was in 1994, during the “Republican Revolution.” That year, armed with their “Contract With America,” Republicans took control of both houses of Congress for the first time in 40 years.

Coincidentally, 1994 was also the year that the percentage of the vote for Republicans was exactly the same among voters ages 18-29 and among voters 60 and older: 51 percent. In fact, until relatively recently, it was not uncommon for the voting of young and elderly Americans to look virtually identical.

Part of the reason for the Democratic swing among young people is the incredible diversity of the group. Gallup estimates that 45 percent of Americans 18-29 are nonwhite. But that doesn’t account for all of the change. As Gallup put it:

“Young adults are not more Democratic solely because they are more racially diverse. In recent years, young white adults, who previously aligned more with the Republican Party, have shifted Democratic. From 1995 to 2005, young whites consistently identified as or leaned Republican rather than Democratic, by an average of 8 points. Since 2006, whites aged 18 to 29 have shown at least a slight Democratic preference in all but one year, with an average advantage of 3 points.”

This should come as welcome news to Democrats and as another reason for fear among Republicans.

Furthermore, since 2004 in presidential elections, young Americans’ share of the vote has inched up as older Americans’ share has fallen. Still, the diversity target is easy and tempting, so Republicans are aggressively pushing voter ID laws. As Politico reported last year, according to a recent study:

“Significantly more minority youths age 18-29 were asked to show identification than white youths: 72.9 percent of black youths were asked for ID, compared with 60.8 percent of Latino youths and 50.8 percent of white youths. Even in states where there are no voter ID laws on the books, 65.5 percent of black youths were asked to show ID at the polls, compared with 55.3 percent of Latino youths and 42.8 percent of white youths.”

Racial bias — sometimes subtle, always sinister — is alive and well.

This is also the reason there is so much conservative resistance to comprehensive immigration reform.

According to a 2011 Pew Research Hispanic Trends Project report, most of the growth in the U.S. population from 2000 to 2010 was due to Hispanics.

The report found:

“Since 2000, nearly 6 million more Latinos have become eligible to vote. The bulk of this growth was attributable to the 5 million U.S.-born Latino youths nationwide who turned 18 during this past decade. That translates into an additional half-million U.S.-born Latinos coming of age each year — a pattern that is certain to persist, and grow, in the coming decades.”

The wave of demographic change and the liberal leaning of the young can’t be held back indefinitely through obstruction and aggression. A change is coming, and it’s blue.

— The New York Times

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