Sometimes it’s hard to believe that the first primary/caucus for the Democratic nomination for president is still five months away. Politicos around the country have watched the candidates at debates, state fairs and on cable news. It’s not even Halloween and it can feel like we are in the bottom of the ninth inning of the 2020 election cycle, when in reality it’s probably the first inning. How many of us have heard the pundits give their opinion on the race, only to hear someone else give the exact opposite opinion! While it’s impossible to know who will win the Democratic primary, examining previous voting trends provides clues as to which type of candidates might fare better come next year.
As I mentioned in my previous blog “Seniors and Voter Participation,” older Americans can always be counted on to vote! For example, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 66 percent of seniors voted in the 2018 midterm election, compared to 36 percent of young people. However, voter participation amongst younger voters jumped 79 percent compared to the previous 2014 midterm election, (U.S. Census Bureau). In addition, in the previous two presidential elections voter participation hovered around 70 percent for seniors (U.S. Census Bureau) and 46 percent (U.S. Census Bureau) for young people. Clearly, older Americans are a more reliable voting block than younger voters. Still, young people have become more politically engaged.
Furthermore, what drives young and older voters to the polls to elect a Democrat presidential nominee? According to Yougov/HuffPost and Gallup polls, a person’s age can be an important factor in determining what traits they look for in a presidential nominee. For example, older voters are more likely to care about electability, while young voters want their party’s nominee to more closely share their ideological views.
State senator Dick Harpootlian from South Carolina told the Atlantic, “I think older voters would tend to be more pragmatic, and by that I mean simply the assessment going on is, What’s the goal of this election? The vast majority of Democrats, I think, are pragmatic about that. Who is our best choice to go toe to toe with Donald Trump in 2020?.” Conversely, Lauren Camera in US News and World Report wrote about young people, “They aren't party-ticket voters, they aren't impressed by electability, and candidates can't win their support by crafting specific policies on issues that matter to them. They respond instead to candidates they think share their values and vision for how the country should work and who it should work for…”
Who is more likely to vote in the 2020 Democratic primaries? Based on previous elections, I think it’s fair to say seniors will make up a good percentage of the primary voting electorate. How many young people vote remains to be seen. Young people are voting at higher rates, but will they vote in enough numbers to swing the race for one candidate? Voter turnout is generally lower in primaries compared to general elections. However, given how polarizing politics has become, it’s certainly possible that voter turnout throughout 2020 could hit record highs. At this point the only thing about the Democratic primaries I know for sure is that I am not sure who is going to be the party’s nominee.
Evan Carmen, Esq. is the Assistant Director for Aging Policy at the B’nai B’rith International Center for Senior Services. He holds a B.A. from American University in political science and a J.D. from New York Law School. Prior to joining B’nai B’rith International he worked in the Office of Presidential Correspondence for the Obama White House, practiced as an attorney at Covington and Burling, LLP, worked as an aide for New York City Council Member Tony Avella and interned for Congressman Gary Ackerman’s office. Click here to read more from Evan Carmen.
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