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Oct 16 2011

Demographic Trends in the Republican Party

category: Issue Polls,Poll Analysis author:

One of the standard control questions which we ask with most of our polls is the age of the respondent.  Taking the answers to this question from a series of polls conducted nationwide involving over 8000 participants during the past 6 months has given us a pretty good profile of the age of the Republican voter base going into the 2012 election.

To start, the obvious conclusion from the breakdown of ages is that most Republican voters are quite old. The party will probably lose over a third of its members to old age in the next 20 years and has only tiny base of younger voters to replace them.

Age Range Graph Percent
18-27 6%
28-37 14%
38-47 15%
48-57 24%
58+ 37%

 

The Republican Party is not a party of the young. More than two thirds of those polled were over 48 years old and only 20% were in the bottom two age brackets. This raises the question of what kind of a future a party has whose membership averages close to retirement age with very few new members becoming involved at or near college age. There’s not much time left for those who currently lead the party. Membership is already shrinking and the trend suggested in these polls is one which would leave the Republican party as a much smaller minority party in less than a generation.

The other significant aspect of this is the difference in political preferences between older and younger Republicans. Taking another question asked in two of our recent polls of a total of about 1800 voters, addressing what the top issue concerns for the 2012 election are, younger Republicans responded very differently from their older counterparts. In these polls both groups agreed that “Government Spending” and “Unemployment” were the top concerns

18-37 Year Olds 58 and Older
Issue Graph Percent Graph Percent
Government Spending 50% 36%
Unemployment 26% 22%
Individual Liberty 15% 14%
Right to Life 5% 10%
Family Values 0% 7%
Immigration 0% 6%

 

The first thing a look at the top and bottom age ranges reveals is that the Republican Party is not nearly as socially conservative as generally believed. The support for “Family Values” and even “Right to Life” issues is relatively small across the board. But while the groups are substantially similar in their positions on the most important – mostly economic – issues, they are radically different when it comes to the more divisive social issues. In the poll on which this is based, out of almost 1000 responses there were almost no participants under the age of 37 who ranked “Immigration” or “Family Values” as a top concern and half as many gave “Right to Life” the top rating as in the older age group. This suggests that for the younger generation of Republicans social issues are an absolute non-priority, or at best issues of convenience which they don’t prioritize significantly.

The first thing a look at the top and bottom age ranges reveals is that the Republican Party is not nearly as socially conservative as generally believed. The support for “Family Values” and even “Right to Life” issues is relatively small across the board. But while the groups are substantially similar in their positions on the most important – mostly economic – issues, they are radically different when it comes to the more divisive social issues. In the poll on which this is based, out of almost 1000 responses there were almost no participants under the age of 37 who ranked “Immigration” or “Family Values” as a top concern and half as many gave “Right to Life” the top rating as in the older age group. This suggests that for the younger generation of Republicans social issues are an absolute non-priority, or at best issues of convenience which they don’t prioritize significantly.

This is further born out by candidate polling. In recent polls older voters go much more heavily for socially conservative candidates like Rick Perry and Herman Cain, while younger voters are attracted to the more socially moderate or socially neutral candidates like Ron Paul and Gary Johnson.

18-37 Year Olds 58 and Older
Issue Graph Percent Graph Percent
Social Conservatives 52% 78%
Social Moderates 46% 20%

 

In the older age group support for social conservatives is three times support for social moderates, while in the younger group the support splits almost 50-50.  Given that some social moderates are also among the most fiscally conservative candidates this bears out the trend towards much less interest in socially conservative views among younger Republican voters.
It is inevitable that the socially conservative 23% of the oldest population group will die off and do so fairly quickly.  They will almost all be gone within two decades.  In addition to reducing the total membership of the party by as much as a third, they will also leave behind a party with very little interest in social conservatism.  You can draw your own conclusions from this, but at the very least it means that prioritizing social issues is a big mistake in the long term as it turns away younger voters and panders to a vocal minority which won’t be around for long.

Some content in this article appeared previously in Blogcritics Magazine