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New Post-Kaiser-Harvard poll highlights Democrats' problem with senior voters

In an interview with the Post's Jonathan Capehart, Senior White House adviser Valerie Jarrett talks about the president's plan to revive the nation's infrastructure, his confidence in reaping bipartisan support and his message in making America a more tolerant country.

The reason this matters so much is the significant role that older voters play in midterm elections. Four years ago, seniors made up 19 percent of the midterm electorate. That fell to 15 percent of the electorate in 2008 as more younger and middle-aged voters came out.

That difference, however, was typical, according to exit polls. Since 1980, the share of the electorate 65 and older was an average of five percentage points higher at each midterm than at the presidential election preceding it.

A separate analysis issued Tuesday by AARP, which lobbies on behalf of seniors, concluded that the share of the electorate older than 45 has been growing as the population ages. The study says the gap between the share of voters older and younger than 45 has been growing and estimates that almost two in three voters next month will be older than 45.

Shaping the electorate is an important part of midterm election strategy, which is why the president's team is so focused on those 2008 first-time or newer voters younger than 30. Team members know that by boosting turnout among these voters somewhat higher than normal in a midterm, they could save House and Senate seats. But they may be pushing a rock uphill, given the normal generational swings in midterms.

Where this could have its biggest impact is in states with competitive races that also have a higher share of older voters.

One of those is Florida, where Republicans are looking to hold onto a Senate seat, avoid a Democratic pickup of the governor's mansion and have targeted four Democratic-held House seats. Another is Pennsylvania, where Republicans could pick up a Senate seat, the governor's mansion and where eight Democratic House seats are in play compared with just one GOP-held seat.

For the past two elections, older voters split their votes almost evenly between Republicans and Democrats in House contests, and they voted for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) by an eight-point margin in 2008. Unless Obama can alter the direction of this election, older voters appear likely to tip toward the Republicans this year.

Assistant polling analyst Kyle Dropp contributed to this report.

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