Dec 14, 2019 - Politics & Policy

Young people are outnumbered and outvoted by older generations

Data: Census Bureau; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios
Data: Census Bureau; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Despite the hype around young Americans' civic activism and record voter turnout in 2018, the voting power of young people is shrinking.

The big picture: On top of young adults being less likely to show up at the polls, the number of people under 25 who are even eligible to vote has fallen, according to a Census data analysis by Brookings Institution's William Frey.

By the numbers: The 65+ year olds' share of the electorate is projected to be 23% in 2020, up from 18% in 2000, Pew Research's Richard Fry told Axios. Meanwhile, the share of eligible voters who are 18-24 is expected to fall one percentage point to 12% in 2020.

  • Gen Z is a much smaller generation compared to the baby boomers (ages 55–73) or millennials (23–38) — who are typically the kids of boomers.
  • Even millennials' voting power is weakened by a higher share (12%) of non-citizens who are ineligible to vote, according to Frey.

Not only outnumbered, young people today are also outvoted by older generations.

  • 71% of eligible 65+ year-olds, and 67% of 45–64 year-olds, voted in 2016. Less than half of 18–29 year-olds did, according to census data.

Why it matters: Steady, high turnout among older Americans could help President Trump and hurt Democratic candidates in 2020.

  • The older population is whiter and more conservative than younger Americans.
  • Trump's 2016 election relied heavily on that demographic.
  • The Trump re-election campaign is spending significantly more money than any other candidate targeting seniors on Facebook.

The other side: Gen Z and millennials have been sticking with Democrats even as they get older, which does not bode well for the GOP in the long-term.

  • "Anyone in the sort of 18 to 45 age range is basically voting 2-to-1 for Democrats over Republicans," Brian Schaffner, a political scientist at Tufts University, told Axios.

What to watch: If young people are energized by a candidate they can make all the difference, says Stillman, pointing to young voters' support for Barack Obama in 2008.

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