The most common age in the United States is 27, a function of the population boom that marked the millennial generation and of the natural effects of the baby boomers getting older. But that most-common age is not the same across racial or ethnic groups. Among black Americans, the most common age is 27, as it is for nonwhite Americans overall. The most common age among whites?
Nearly 6 in 10 nonwhite U.S. residents are younger than 38 (the upper bound of the millennial generation, per Pew). Fifty-six percent of whites are 38 or older.
This is a reflection in part of the trend toward a less densely white American population. But it also suggests that, at least over the short term, older voters will continue to be much more densely white than younger ones.
Why does that matter? In part because older voters and white voters tend to vote more heavily than younger or nonwhite voters.
These trends have been evident for years and have led to a great deal of rumination and pontification on what might be expected as a result, particularly in politics. Why? Because America getting less white and more gray suggests politics will be pushed in two different directions. Older and white voters tend to vote more Republican, and black and Hispanic voters are more Democratic.
So what happens when Americans are older and more heavily nonwhite?
We are already seeing some effects of these demographic changes. Exit polling collected by the Roper Center suggests nearly 9 in 10 voters in 1976 were white and that 52 percent of them backed the Republican presidential candidate (Gerald Ford). By 1980, Ronald Reagan earned 56 percent of the white vote, which made up 88 percent of the electorate.
Ford lost by two points. Reagan won by nearly 10. The white vote was critical.
Fast-forward to 2016. White voters made up 70 percent of the vote, according to exit polling. (Census Bureau data has a slightly higher figure.) President Trump earned 57 percent of the white vote — just a bit more than Reagan got in 1980.
But Trump lost the popular vote by two points. That drop in the density of the white vote led to a 12-point swing in the result.
The increase in the density of the older vote has been slower. In 1988, Census Bureau data tell us that 85 percent of the electorate was white. By 2016, 74 percent was, an 11-point drop. In 1988, 27 percent of voters were age 60 or older. Three years ago, 34 percent were.
Again, these trends are not new. What the new Pew analysis does is tack an exclamation point on them. The most common age for a white U.S. resident is more than five times that of a Hispanic. When those Hispanic 11-year-olds are 40, those white 58-year-olds will be nearly 90.
What our politics will look like as a result is harder to calculate. But the trends do not look great for the Grand Old Party.