Hopeful Signs

During some twenty years on a university faculty, I learned to appreciate the vast differences in the reliability of research, especially survey research. It isn’t simply the “garbage” studies that are promoted by partisans of one sort or another–even serious efforts at determining attitudes and beliefs of particular populations run into problems with the way in which questions are posed and the selection of representative respondents, among other minefields.

Carefully crafted, reliable surveys require skilled researchers (they’re also very expensive), so we need to look carefully at the source of data coming from survey researchers. One of the most skilled, reliable and reputable of such sources is Pew Research–which is why I was so heartened by a recent study Pew published, showing that the electorate is shifting — and not in the Republican Party’s favor.

As The Week reported:

A new deep dive into the 2020 electorate by Pew Research contains mostly bad news for Republicans, whose approaching demographic doom is less racial than it is generational. While it shouldn’t be news to anyone at this point that young voters are a solidly blue voting bloc, the more worrisome developments for the GOP are the unexpectedly elderly nature of the party’s coalition and the unyielding Democratic lean of younger voters as they age. If Pew’s numbers are to be believed, the only solidly Republican age demographic last year was 75 and over, meaning that every time the sun comes up, the GOP’s struggle to win a majority of American voters gets harder.

Pew’s in-depth study uses validated voter files – matching panelists to a registration database confirming whether or not they turned out – to offer a different, and possibly more accurate, view of the electorate than the exit polls taken on Election Day. Often this new data can challenge narratives that set in stubbornly and immediately after the votes are counted – in 2016, for example, Pew’s research found that Donald Trump won white women by a considerably smaller margin than Election Day surveys indicated, upending one prevailing story about who was most responsible for Hillary Clinton’s stunning loss.

Some of the ways in which Pew’s findings differed from the arguably less-precise findings of exit polls included the extent of Trump’s inroads with Latino and Black voters (he did somewhat better with Latinos and worse with Blacks than previously reported) and the fact that he did not win married men by 11 points–in fact, Pew found that married men went for Biden by 5.

But it was the age numbers that I found most hopeful. Exit polls had shown Biden winning 18- to 29-year-olds by 24 points, 60-36; Pew found it at a similar, albeit slightly smaller 58-38. Exit polls also showed Trump with just a 52-47 edge among voters over 65, and Pew’s numbers were almost identical – 52-48 for Trump over Biden.

Pew also broke the survey down into not just age groups but generational cohorts. And it’s here where you’ll find the most terrifying information for the GOP. According to Pew, Trump won a decisive majority only with members of the “Silent Generation,” those born between 1928 and 1945 (and the extremely tiny number of living people older than that). Trump dominated that cohort by 16 points, 58-42. That means that the only reliably Republican voter bloc will shrink considerably between now and 2024, and that 65- to 74-year-olds must have been a much more blue-leaning group in 2020 to produce Trump’s comparatively narrow 4-point margin with all over-65s.

As the article notes, you don’t need a degree in actuarial science to know that 65- to 74-year-olds will be around considerably longer than 75- to 102-year-olds.

Perhaps even worse for former President Trump and his acolytes, the Pew data showed little erosion in the millennial preference for Democrats over Republicans. Fifty-six percent of millennials voted for Clinton in 2016, and 58 percent voted for Biden in 2020. Remember, the first millennials voted in 2002, and as a group they simply have not budged. “Elder millennials” are turning 40 this year and they don’t love the Republican Party any more than they did when George W. Bush was lighting several trillion dollars on fire prosecuting a pointless war in Iraq. And that’s terrible news for the GOP’s hopes of ever becoming a majority party again, because if they keep losing the youngest voters by double digits election after election, they need a significant number of them to get more conservative as they age just to hold current margins in place.

This is all good news–in the long run. Even in the medium run.

The task for those of us who are terrified by the GOP’s current efforts to win elections by cheating–gerrymandering, vote suppression, placing unethical partisans in positions to oversee elections, etc.–is to work our fannies off to keep them from destroying democracy in the short run.


  1. While Democrats, or former Republicans with a functioning brain capacity, see this as a sign of good news, I wonder if the news is good for progressives or news gatherers outside the Rachel Maddow crowd.

    Once again, the polls applauding a solid Democratic voting base means nothing to me. The status quo doesn’t make me get all giddy. If we aren’t socialist-friendly, anti-capitalism, then we are doomed.

    I’ve seen the pictures of the mussels literally baked on the beach in Washington state, and it makes me sick. The Democrats are still an oil and fossil fuel burning party, and it makes me sick. They still think capitalism is the best route for this country. As long as campaign money is flowing, the party will be okay crowd needs to die off quickly.

  2. I don’t agree Todd. I think all of this is great news.

    Thanks Professor! I was fist pumping while reading this morning! Yay!

  3. From 1992 to 2020, Democrats won the popular vote in all presidential elections except one (2004). While the trends appear to favor Democrats, the popular vote isn’t the main issue as long as the the distribution of voters among the states and thus the Electoral College continue to distort the will of all voters. Wittingly or not, the Constitution’s Framers weighted the will of power brokers above the popular will. That’s a fact not lost on Republican strategists and the reason voters in a mere handful of states determine the direction of the country for the rest of us.

  4. Denmark. The kids want our government to be MORE like that of Denmark and less like that of Somalia. So do I. It’s not a binary choice between capitalism and socialism. It’s less crony-capitalist-oligarchy and more democratic-socialist-populism. Like Todd, I have little faith in the centrist Dem establishment (Joe Manchin comes to mind, or Joe Donnelly for that matter) but I’m encouraged that despite some of the ugliest political tactics in the modern era, the C-Dems and QOP have not been able to dislodge the role that “The Squad” is playing in pushing the agenda leftward. Not even close. They’ve become seasoned pols with constituencies far beyond the political boundaries of their districts.

    My Twitter feed is certainly no match for Pew Research but all I seem to see among progressives and the “resistor” community is EXASPERATION with the snail’s pace of basic reforms to our republic and the economy. We still have an electoral college, we still only have 50 states, a Senate that misrepresents over 40 million Americans, a Supreme Court packed with originalist judicial activists, weak federal oversight of elections, a filibuster rule that can stop laws guaranteeing constitutional rights, massive tax breaks and direct payments to every major industry, no comprehensive health-care and social services policy, a blank-check military, and a Federal Reserve buying $100Billion of mortgages and treasuries every month so that people can brag about the growth of their 401(k) balance or how much over listing price they got for their house.

    I’m no political savant but nor am I a rube…I know these reforms take time and do not follow a linear pattern of progress, but I fear that too many among the electorate are simply satisfied that the former guy is just that, former, and it’s just fine if everything snaps back into place like it was before November of 2016. That, simply, cannot happen. Ever.

  5. I still believe that there are more liberals in those red states than anyone knows. They have become disheartened and unmotivated to vote from years of seeing their candidates lose. Give them good candidates and reasons to register and vote and the Senate would certainly turn blue.

  6. Hood news yes, but only if these votes are cast then weighted equally. The voter suppression phenomena, electoral college discounting and gerrymandering renders a not insignificant number of democratic votes moot.

  7. Love optimism – love realism more. GOP is very solid to win the House in ’22 and a decent chance to take the Senate. Then, NADA, for two years, including court appointees.

    In the meantime, GOP states continue voting restrictions (now emboldened by SCOTUS) and do ardent gerrymandering (much upheld by the hundreds of judges appointed by The Former).

    The DEMs line up for ’24…no message, no accomplishments (do you really think that vaccines in arms will get people to vote 4 years later?). The likely nominee (as of now) – the VP (assigned the “tough stuff” by Biden (nada done) a woman (see the impact of this in 2016).

    Welcome to Poland’s democracy going forward.

    Hoping young voters will save the world? They don’t vote and give up easily – having too much fun.

  8. Sounds good to this almost 79 y/o! I’ve been a progressive forever, and welcome the younger cohort with open arms.
    Todd, I can only applaud your socialist-friendly perspective. As I read recently, and agree with, capitalism is nothing but a conspiracy, but one that is taken so for granted, as just “that which is.”

  9. I can only hope that the younger generations will insist of ridding us of the electoral college, and creating a more sustainable economy at a faster rate. I hope they can afford electric cars and that they compel both corporate America and our government to put in charging stations at a rapid rate. We need to forgive their student loans so that they can buy the expensive electric cars.

    I hope that younger farmers and yes, agribusiness learn to use methods of farming that stop destroying top soil and contributing to pollution. Millenials will have a hard time with this one due to corporate lobbyists.

    I have heard lots of opinions that the GOP is a dying party because it is not attracting growing minorities and younger generations. Their response is voter supression and maintaining the electoral college. We need younger people running for political office to unseat the “old white men” like McConnell. We need more people of color Native Americans and other minorities running for office and yes, more women. I can only hope that the younger generations will vote for a greater diversity of representatives.

    Yesterday I was in downtown Indy and saw a lot of young people using the scooters instead of driving cars. Yay!!

  10. Short term, the Republicans in 2022 will almost certainly win a majority in the U.S. House due to redistricting and mid-term historical patterns which punish the party which holds the White House. Republicans will probably lose, net, a seat or two in the Senate because of a weak field of candidates. But it’s possible they could win the Senate too.

    But long term, the demographic trends running against the 2021 version of the GOP are undeniable. The Republican Party will have to change if it wants to be competitive. That probably will happen, but not as long as the GOP stays anchored to Trump’s hate filled politics.

    The 2020 GOP gains among African-American voters was overstated, while among Latino voters it was understated. Here’s the secret about African-American and Latino voters. Most are not that liberal, especially culturally. They are not natural allies with the white coastal liberals that dominate the Democratic Party. It’s not a terrible surprise that, as the Democratic Party becomes more liberal, i.e. progressive, Republicans are able to peel away some of those minority voters. Frankly, given the disconnect between the philosophical leanings of most minority voters, the Democrats have pretty much maxed out the vote they will get from those voters.

    It should be noted that when it comes to minority voters voting Republican, Trump was a drag on the process and not a catalyst. Look at minority vote for down ballot Republicans versus Trump and you will almost always find those down ballot Republicans doing better with minorities than Trump. Of course that was true with other voters as well. Almost all Republicans down ballot ran better than Trump. Which makes the zeal of popular (at least in their district) Republicans to attach them to unpopular Trump, well, insane.

    What won the election for Joe Biden was crossover vote from traditional Republican leaning groups, particularly suburban voters and married white males. (I know there is considerable overlap between the two.) Biden made huge strides with those demographic groups, but they also voted Republican in other down ballot races which is why Democrats won the Presidency, but lost seats in the House.

    In conclusion, the Pew Center poll/survey highlighted the weakening in traditional GOP-leaning demographic groups, a weakening that far exceeds the modest gains the GOP made with minorities.

  11. I must have edited some of my discussion of partisan crossover vote.

    In 2016, much was made of Democrats who voted for Trump. But, in fact, Hillary Clinton matched Trump with Republicans who crossed over to vote for her. In 2020, Biden won the partisan crossover vote by a significant percentage, especially in swing states such as Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. In every one of those states, if Biden would have simply matched Trump’s crossover appeal, Trump would have won the State and been re-elected. But Biden exceed Trump’s crossover vote in those states by a raw vote total that far exceeded Biden’s margin of victory in those states.

  12. If the Democrats are basing their hopes on a “die off” of old Republicans, it would be a mistake. Check out The Trumpet’s rallies or the Capitol attackers, they are not a bunch of old men.

    As repellent as The Trumpet was, it was a close election, which in itself should be alarming.

  13. Claims of “voter suppression” by the Republican Party are so overblown. Most of the changes won’t even make a small dent in turnout and will likely hand the Democrats a potent political issue (“They don’t want you to vote!) in 2022 and 2024.

    Democrats need to be less concerned about the casting of votes, and a lot more concerned about the real threat to American democracy – the COUNTING of those votes. So what if you have an election in which the Democratic presidential candidate wins a majority of the votes in enough states to win the Electoral College, but GOP-dominated state legislatures or a GOP-dominated Congress disregards those popular votes to install a Republican? We are quickly approaching that day. Local Republicans who honestly counted the votes in 2020 are being kicked out of their positions for being “disloyal.” We are having laws being passed by state legislatures which give those legislatures the right to overrule the voters in a disputed election. Then you have Congress’ role in the Electoral College. In light of the pressure Republican members of Congress came under for honestly doing their job in certifying Biden as the winner of the election, next time they very well might throw out the election results in favor of Trump or a Trump acolyte.

    The real problem with the Electoral College is not that a presidential candidate can lose the popular vote but win the EC, but rather the clunky mechanics involved in the process of counting and certifying the votes. The whole system depends on elected officials at the local, state and federal level honestly carrying out their duties. In the era of Trump, that’s not something we should assume will happen. Democracy is in big trouble in the United States and it’s not because someone is required to show a photo ID to vote or not enough drop boxes for ballots.

  14. Well, all those numbers are great, but gerrymandering still rules state legislatures. Have a look at the district map of Texas, for example. It looks like a kaleidoscope wheel. Gerrymandered to the bone thanks to the truly evil Tom DeLay and his equally ridiculous Republican crooks.

    Todd is wrong about Democrats because they aren’t necessarily represented by Rachel Maddow OR the press. In my ruby-red county in Texas, the 28% of the voters voted Democrat from ages 18-90. They thanked me with LTEs for my progressive columns. Otherwise they were silent… Republicans have to shoot off their mouths (that reflect the emptiness of their agenda) because they have nothing else upon which to govern. The media will always be the media.

  15. I would agree with Paul @ 12:09 pm as the old saying goes:

    “Those who cast the votes decide nothing. Those who count the votes decide everything,”

    “As long as I count the Votes, what are you going to do about it.”

    “‘I care not who casts the votes of a nation, provided I can count them.”

    Back when I was more active in the Democratic Party here in Marion County, I was responsible for rounding up Poll Workers. I did this for several years. Everyone Republican and Democrats did their jobs with honesty and integrity.

    What is worrisome is to read about the injection of hyper partisans into the counting, like that crap going on in Arizona.

    IMHO we need a set of national rules, regulations and guidelines concerning voting in Federal Elections. The idea should be to make it as easy as possible to vote and count the votes.

  16. I learned one thing from working on an election many years ago: Old Republicans never die, they just keep on voting.

  17. Everything I see and hear and read convinces me that the vote count count and the Electoral College count will prove irrelevant in 2024. The Republicans have plans and state legislation to overturn any adverse results, and the Supreme Court and Congress (if held by Republicans) will come to their aid. Pelosi and Schumer and Biden and Rachel Madow have done nothing and said little to convince me otherwise. Democracy seems defenseless when large numbers of people at or near the top of the system stop accepting the rule of law. Why are we so passive in this existential moment?

  18. Thanks, Terry Munson. Add to that the likelihood that the DEMS will have no compelling message for people to vote for them: “We got the vaccine out”? “We tried to do big things that were doomed to fail and got miniscule stuff done?” Few people will remember the Covid checks and the GOP is already taking credit for them, no doubt heavily backed up by Fox, etc.

  19. For the moment, I will thank you, Sheila, for brightening my Sunday. I will maintain happy thoughts.

    Patrick – Please do not misuse the word “moderate” to describe Manchin or Donnelley. Biden is a “moderate” the “other Joes” are “conservative” or “Blue Dog”

    I know, I am in Indiana –
    Hello – i hate big government, taxes, regulations, and abortions; I love guns and religion – I am your Democratic candidate

    But better a Manchin or even a Donnelley than another Moscow Mitch, or a “Senator Greene”

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