There's a data point in the new Pew paper on party identification that provides Republicans a bit of good news as they look to the 2016 election (and beyond): older voters are moving heavily to the GOP.
The so-called "Silent Generation" -- defined by Pew as people between the age of 69 and 86 -- was once a solidly Democratic constituency; in 1992, 52 percent either identified as Democrats or leaned toward the Democratic party while just 38 percent called themselves Republicans or leaned that way. By 2014, 47 percent of the Silents were Republicans or GOP-leaners while 43 percent were on the Democratic side of the party ID aisle.
The movement in party ID among older voters has mirrored similar changes in the Silent Generation's voting preferences in presidential elections. Democrats won 60+ voters -- exits didn't break age out into any smaller older-age subgroups for years -- in the 1992, 1996 and 2000 presidential races. Starting in 2004, however, older voters started to align themselves behind the Republican nominee. George W. Bush, who lost those 60 and older by four points to Al Gore in 2000, carried them by eight points in 2004. John McCain matched that eight point margin in 2008 even as Barack Obama was blowing him out among virtually every other age group. In 2012, Mitt Romney won voters 65 and older by 12 points.
"Older voters comprised the greatest increase in Republican voter share between the 2008 and 2012 election," noted lead Romney strategist in a Daily Beast story last fall.
The movement of older Americans toward Republicans doesn't get nearly the attention that millennials -- those aged 18-34 -- do for their Democratic allegiances. (In the Pew poll, 51 percent of millennials are either Democrats or lean that way as compared to 35 percent who describe themselves as Republicans.) And, there is some amount of morbid logic to that. Gaining ground among the young, who, presumably, will be voters for a very long time to come seems to be of significantly more import than winning over voters nearing the end of their participation in the democratic process -- if you will.
Except that we Americans are living longer and longer. Average life expectancy is now nearly 79 years for a baby born in the United States, according to figures from the Center for Disease Control. And, the ranks of the elderly are going to just keep growing. As the Atlantic's Derek Thompson noted in a piece titled "America is about to get really old," one in every seven people in the U.S. in 2014 was over 65; that number will be one in five by 2029.
And, as Stevens notes in his Beast piece, older voters have shown a much higher propensity for closely following politics and policy than, say, millennials. In a Pew poll in the heat of the 2014 midterms last fall, 25 percent of those over 65 said they were closely following the election campaign while just 5 percent of those aged 18-29 said the same. Concludes Stevens of the interest gap: "This matters because it’s hard to get anyone motivated to vote in an election when they’re not paying attention. It’s like caring who wins the next All India Cricket Championship: If you don’t follow the game, does it matter?"
Yes, it's sexier and more hip to focus on what those pesky millennials are up to. But, if past is prologue, one of the things we know they won't be up to -- or at least all that interested in -- is politics. For those on the fast-growing other end of the age spectrum, politics is a front and center interest.
That's a very welcome piece of demographic news for Republicans.