Lyndon Johnson is reputed to have said: “An important talent for a politician is the ability to count.” With that criterion in mind, let’s look at a column that Peter Beinart posted on the Daily Beast the other day.
Beinart opined that Barack Obama would easilywin re-election in 2012, and he offered a number of reasons why. I’m not qualified to judge the merits of his argument, but one of the points he put forward was amazingly dense. Yet it’s a view that is all too prevalent – even now – in the political world.
Here’s what Beinart said:
…Obama has demographics on his side. Yes, he struggles with white Anglos, especially men. But there aren’t as many of them these days. In 2012, Hispanics and millenials will both be a larger share of the electorate than they were in 2008, and there’s no Republican on the horizon who can seriously challenge Obama for their allegiance.
Leaving aside white Anglos and Hispanics, let’s look at how staggeringly wrong Beinart is about the impact of millenials.
When we use the term “millenial” – depending on which demographer you’re referring to, and also which country (there are different definitions in the USA, UK and Australia, for example) – you’re usually referring to people aged 18-24 and then it gets stretched – by some demographers, to 27 (i.e. born in 1984), 28, 29, or even up to 30 (born in 1980).
If we look at the core of this cohort – 18-24 – we find that they represented a great big fat…wait for it…9.5% of all votes cast in 2008. That’s up from 9.3% in 2004, which was in turn up from 7.8% in 2000, and 7.6% in 1996.
Now it’s certainly true that as long as they’re voting, they might as well vote for you, so there’s no argument with Obama going after this age group and trying to win over as many of them as possible. But the blunt truth is, there’s not enough of them to carry the day. In fact, there’s never been enough – the highest percentage of the vote they’ve represented in the past 40 years was only 14.2%, all the way back in 1972.
Even if we push the “millenial” definition up to age 30 – what the hell, let’s push it to age 34 – we can’t get the share up over 25%. (In the 2008 election, the 18-34 group represented 32 million out of 131 million votes cast, or about 24%).
Meanwhile, at the other end of the age spectrum? You already know what’s coming, don’t you?
The 45+ vote – that’s a combination of Baby Boomers (45-64) and Seniors (65+), accounted for about 60% of all votes cast.
There are numerous research studies that show that the older the voters are, the less likely they are to vote for Obama.
Now before any gets all excited, let me stress that I am making no argument whatsoever as to whether the older votes ought to prefer Obama – that’s a whole separate topic that I’m not getting into here. I’m simply noting that to the extent that demographics matter here, contrary to what Peter Beinart says Obama does not enjoy an advantage:
– His core group of younger supports don’t add up to enough votes to make any difference
– Boomers and Seniors, who at the moment are less likely to vote for Obama, account for a share of the vote that is two and a half times larger (you define “millenial” as 18-34) and more than five times larger (if you zero in on the “youth” vote, which is 18-24).
Republicans can only fantasize that the Democrats would concentrate on the “millenial” vote.