Generation gap and electoral volatility

Having been blogging much because I’ve been working a ton on trying to finish off my conference paper on the generation gap (should be done tonight), but I thought I’d take a break from working to check the blogs and see that Chait has a post that is remarkably similar to what I was just writing in the conclusion:

The 2010 election was largely a result of the generation gap. To oversimplify, the old (conservative) portion of the 2008 electorate showed up, and the young (liberal) portion stayed away. Democrats borrowed a lot of seats in 2008 with a swollen electorate filled with young voters who weren’t likely to stay engaged in 2010. But the corollary of that is that Republicans borrowed those seats right back in 2010 with a disproportionately old electorate that doesn’t reflect what 2012 will look like. The mere fact of having a presidential race will make the House electorate substantially more Democratic.

Indeed, it’s entirely possible that, if the age gap continues, the Congressional vote will continue to swing back and forth like this, with Democrats picking up seats in presidential election years, and losing them in off-years. Obviously, those swings could be obscured by swings going the other way — Democrats could gain seats in a midterm election if the president is a really unpopular Republican, etc. Anyway, my main point is that the salience of age is a new and very important factor in American politics, and it provides some reason for caution in using history to forecast future results.

I especially like it when Chait and I have the same ideas independently, rather than him just making me think about something in a way I previously had not, which is the usual course of things.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

One Response to Generation gap and electoral volatility

  1. John says:

    I’m confused (my default state) but the symptom you’re both describing is truly no different than say Truman’s midterm. Are you saying that the reasons for the same occurrence in the past is due to different causes?

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