Normally, political analyses of demographic shifts focus on the United States becoming less white. Over at the Daily Beast, Republican strategist Stuart Stevens raises another important point: It will also become grayer -- i.e. older. The demographic shifts that the country will see over the next few decades includes a surge in people -- a.k.a. voters -- over the age of 65.
Stevens uses Census data to describe how the population will evolve. We took that data and graphed it. In fact, we appear to be on the cusp of a spike in Americans 65 or older, a combination of increased lifespans and the shock wave from the Baby Boom rippling out past one final boundary. Even considering the Census projections based on the possibility of a surge in immigration, the effects are tiny; the population over 65 stands to swell as a percentage of those over the age of 18 either way. (Darker bars are future projections.)
While this population has grown more Republican over time, today's 20-year old is 2060's retiree, so it's hard to forecast that generation's politics. (The New York Times explored the link between generations and politics earlier this year.)
But one thing is almost certain: The increase in 65-plus Americans means an even bigger increase in 65-plus voters.
The Census collects data on historic voting trends, reinforcing another truism of politics: Older voters vote more. Here's how voter registration has broken down by election cycle since 1966. Toggle back and forth between that and the actual population (of people 18 and older), and you see the difference.
Even more stark is turnout. The percentage of the electorate from each age group varies drastically both by age group and by election. The midterm/presidential race difference is obvious on this chart, with younger voters far less likely to turnout in midterm years.
Stevens looks at how this shift will affect politics and policy, reminding us that the demographic changes in the rest of the population will be reflected in the older population, too. It's clear, though, that issues of concern to older voters -- healthcare and Social Security among them -- will continue to play an important role in political debate.
As America gets grayer, so do the things politicians focus on in election years. We're used to that pattern, too -- and it seems unlikely to change any time soon.