|Some astute political junkies might wonder why the Democratic identification margin is smallest among Americans aged 38-46, even though President Obama performed noticeably better among voters between the ages of 30-39 (+10%) and 40-49 (tied) than he did among voters over the age of 65 (-8%). The reason for this is that many older conservatives, especially in the south, still self-identify as Democrats even though they have been voting for Republicans in presidential elections since as early as 1972. Major pro-Republican shifts among this demographic also occurred in the presidential elections of 1984 and 2000, and in the midterm elections of 1994.
Before he wrote at Open Left, and before Open Left even existed, Paul Rosenberg documented this long-term shift among conservative whites with some cool tables. The long and short of this analysis is that the Democratic advantage in partisan self-identification among Americans over the age of 45 is largely illusory. Older conservative whites might still vote for Democrats in House or local elections, but they don't vote for Democrats in statewide or presidential elections anymore. By the time Generation X started voting in 1984, for the most part conservative whites were already moving to the Republican Party, and they went along with the tide rather than splitting their tickets. As such, the smaller partisan advantage for Democrats within Generation X (currently about 32-44 years of age), is actual more stable and solid than the larger leads among older generations. In addition to the 2008 data, Democratic performance among 30 somethings in 2004 and 2006 confirm this.
What this all means is that, if current partisan voting trends hold, the future for Democrats is even brighter than the Gallup charts suggest. Looking beyond partisan self-identification, voters over the age of 65 have a partisan index of Republican + 8 (that is, McCain scored 8% higher among this group than among the nation as a whole), while voters under the age of 30 have a partisan index of Democratic + 13 (Obama scored 13% higher among this group than among the nation as a whole). As time progresses, the D+13 voters will be replacing the R+8 voters within the electorate, for an overall Democratic shift of D+21. In fact, looking beyond age to all first-time voters (a group which also includes new citizens and people who did not vote when they were young), Democrats actually have a partisan advantage of D+16.
This leads me to the truly frightening math for Republicans. In 2008, first time voters made up 11% of the electorate, and 69% of them voted for President Obama (D+16). Roughly 4% of the 2004 electorate did not vote in 2008, and that group had a partisan index of R+2. If that same pattern holds in 2012, then President Obama adds 5.1-5.2 million votes, and another 3.6%-3.7%, to his margin in 2012, even if recurring voters from 2008 are precisely tied. On top of their already large 2008 hole, Republicans are falling behind by more than one million additional votes every year.
Now, partisan voting preferences within demographics groups are not fixed. This is especially true among age cohorts. There is no doubt that disillusionment could kick in at some point. For example in 1996, when Generation X made up the entire 18-29 group, it gave Democrats their strongest performance among youth voters ever (D+6). However, only four years later, Bush and Gore were tied among younger voters. That is a rapid partisan shift, and it could happen again if Democrats do not govern well, and / or don't manage their image well.
P.S.: I really enjoyed writing these future projections this week. I intend to do more next week. However, I have a question: do you want me to keep forecasting the future of the electorate, or do you want the forecasters to branch out into other areas, such as climate and lifestyle?