Demographics drive politics

The development of last week’s most recent midterms that I find most interesting is that profound new impact of the generation gap on American politics.  Young voters have always been much less reliable in Midterm elections than older voters, but that did not affect the partisan balance of things until quite recently.   As has been well-documented, young people went hugely for Obama in 2008, but just didn’t show up at the polls this time around.  At the same time, older Americans have increasingly become among the most conservative portion of the electorate.  Interestingly, this really got under way in 2004.  Here’s a selection from a great NYT chart that looks at demographics over every national election since 1982.

What you can see (if you squint and get close to your screen) is that there’s basically no difference between under 30 and over 60 Americans in any election (excepting an interestingly anomalous 1996) until you get to 2004.  Then the gap emerges and increases over the subsequent two elections.   I truly think we are looking at very notable development that will shape American politics for a good time to come.

As for the title of this post, what got me thinking about it today, was Jon Cohn’s nice column pointing out just how much Republicans totally pander to older Americans, even when it is 180 degrees opposite the rest of their proclaimed ideology.

They’ve [Republicans] also been attacking the health overhaul for what it will do to Medicare. And instead of accusing Democrats of trying to dump more money into a government program, as Republicans would typically do, they’ve attacked Democrats for doing the very opposite–noting that the Affordable Care Act will reduce spending on Medicare somewhere around $400 billion over the next ten years. Apparently government-run health care is awful, except, um, when it isn’t.

To be fair, the Republican argument makes perfect sense if you think like a campaign operative. Senior citizens are, at the moment, the most conservative age group in the electorate. They were least likely to support President Obama in 2008 and, during the health care fight, were most likely to oppose enactment. Republicans seized on that fact and have gleefully proclaimed themselves champions of Medicare, despite a long history of opposing it and, as Newt Gingrich once put it, letting this universal social insurance program “wither on the vine.” Seniors are playing along, since they figure reform means taking money once targeted for Medicare and diverting it to help people under-65 pay for their medical care.

Sadly, we can expect pandering to older Americans (and their narrow political interests) only to increase.

UPDATE: Just after posting, I saw that Kevin Drum ran this (much easier to read) graphic:

Adam Smith: socialist!

Via Jon Chait:

Adam Smith:

The necessaries of life occasion the great expense of the poor. They find it difficult to get food, and the greater part of their little revenue is spent in getting it. The luxuries and vanities of life occasion the principal expense of the rich, and a magnificent house embellishes and sets off to the best advantage all the other luxuries and vanities which they possess. A tax upon house-rents, therefore, would in general fall heaviest upon the rich; and in this sort of inequality there would not, perhaps, be anything very unreasonable. It is not very unreasonable that the rich should contribute to the public expense, not only in proportion to their revenue, but something more than in that proportion.

I do find it pretty compelling that Adam Smith made the argument for progressive taxation, way back in the day.  Unfortunately, though, for modern conservatives, anything short of flat tax rates is socialism.

Health Care Vote redux

So, a while back, Seth Masket and I did a little analysis on how voting for health care affected the predicted vote totals for Democrats in conservative districts.  Now that we’ve had the election, we did the same analysis on the actual vote totals.  Short version: they look even worse.  Among the 41 Democrats we looked at (those running for re-election in 50 most conservative districts), voting in favor of health care cost them an average of 5 points, compared to those who voted against.  And that is, again, controlling for conservatism of district and the member’s overall voting record.  It’s also important to note, that we again found no effect of voting for the stimulus or cap and trade.  Here’s a little more from Seth:

Suffice it to say this is a huge effect.  As it turns out, of the 41 House Democrats we examined, nine eight of them who supported health reform ended up losing by less than 5.2 points: Carney (PA), Kilpatrick (AZ), Klein (FL), Mollohan (WV), Perriello (VA), Pomeroy (ND), Salazar (CO), Spratt (SC), Wilson (OH).  That is, the analysis suggests that had those folks voted against health reform, they’d still have jobs in Congress.  Now, this is a pretty simplistic analysis — we don’t know whether Democrats would have fared better or worse overall if health reform had failed, for example — but it’s still a pretty astonishing effect for one vote.

Conversely, we find that five Democratic members who did get reelected would be out of a job today if they’d voted yes on health reform.  These include Altmire (PA), Chandler (KY), Matheson (UT), McIntyre (NC), and Shuler (NC).

Also, very much worth noting that I’ll happily trade a House majority for a sure-to-be enduring policy that will materially improve millions of Americans’ lives.  Of course, Carney et al. may not feel that way (though I hope they do).

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