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Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Morning after

Barack Obama took a giant step towards the Democratic nomination last night. CNN's delegate count shows that he substantially closed the delegate gap between him and Hillary Clinton, and now trails by just 1100 to 1039. Since Clinton leads in unelected superdelegates by 223-131, that means that Barack has passed her in delegates chosen by the voters, and if that trend continues, I think most superdelegates will be forced to change their minds and vote for him as well to preserve the credibility of the primary process (which is functioning far better than it ever has in American history.) A terrific fight looms over delegates from Michigan and Florida, but it hardly seems possible that it will be decided according to the results of the rogue primaries they held, in which Clinton was the only participant. Obama has the momentum (and will have more after the "Beltway" primaries this Tuesday), and, astonishingly, greater financial resources. Clinton, on the other hand, can still hope that the same demographics that carried her to victory in most of the Northeast and in California (blue-collar whites and Hispanics) can do the same in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Texas early next month. That is not impossible.

It is my intention, as many of you know, to provide something new here, and today I am going to present some data on generational voting in the Democratic primaries. Young peoples' interest in politics has been falling since the 1970s, and I remember Bill Strauss telling me around 1998 that only about 1/3 of eligible Generation X voters (born 1961-81) had voted in the 1996 election. Obama, as I have already mentioned, is doing very well among younger voters. He would be winning easily, however, if more of them bothered to vote. Five generations are now voting (although the GIs, who decided just about every election from 1932 until 2000, are a tiny shadow of their former selves now.) The ideal dividing line would be age 47, but the exit polls use 44, dumping a few Generation Xers into the older group. Still, the age data from CNN exit polls is rather astonishing--sad to say, older folk still rule the political world in the US. Here are some figures.

In California 60% of the Democrats and 70% of the Republicans who voted were 45 and over.

In New York 63% of the Democrats and 73% of the Republican voters were over 44.

In Massachusetts, 62% of the Democrats, 63% of the Republicans were over 44..

In Georgia, 64% of the Democrats and a mere 60% of the Republicans were over 44.

In New Jersey, 58% of the Democrats and 70% of the Republicans voting were over 44. (There's a trend here: northeast Republicans are on the endangered species list.)

Missouri, 58% of Democrats, 64% of Republicans, over 44.

By this time you are undoubtedly wondering about the total populations that are respectively 18-44 and 45 and over. In 2005, the last year for which I can find data, the younger group was 54% of the voting age population, the older group 46%. That may have altered about a point in favor of the older group since then, since the early 1960s cohorts (who have passed 44 in the interim) were evidently a little larger than the late 1980s-early 1990s ones that have reached voting age. This would suggest that older Americans are voting at a rate about twice that of younger Americans. (The Republican vote appears to be substantially more skewed towards the elderly than the Democratic, except perhaps in the South.)

It is now too late, sadly, to register for the Texas and Ohio primaries on March 4, but there is plenty of time to register in Pennsylvania, where the primary does not occur until April 22. I hope the Obama campaign will take note. Last night, watching Obama speak in Virginia, I realized that the JFK comparison is actually quite appropriate. Both are inspiring, but not in the way people usually think. JFK is remembered above all for his inaugural, which was actually not a typical piece of his rhetoric. His most powerful speeches, on topics like peace with the Soviets and the civil rights bill, drew their strength from their simple, inexorable logic, and from his lack of emotion. Obama is quite similar; he excites, but only rarely gets excited himself. It's a most refreshing contrast to the obviously worked-up emotions of so many Silent and Boomer politicians. His election would be a great thing for America and the world, and I think that it is almost certain to come, even it does not happen this year. A sleeping giant--the young people of America--is awakening.


bbot said...

At the democratic caucus on Saturday in Seattle, I was probably the youngest person in my district. (19)

wmmbb said...

I am wondering, David, if you think that Obama can win in the face of institutional power within the Democratic Party, including the process for allocating the superdelegates that has been the undoing of past successful primary contenders, such as Hart and Jackson, and the fact that Obama has failed to attract the white low income vote.

Nur-al-Cubicle said...

Prof Kaiser:

Do you think the timing of the 9-11 Military Court/Death Penalty affair is deliberate in order to interfere with the Democrats' bid for the White House? Another just-in-time evocation of terror?

thomas said...

I'm interested to hear that you think the primary process is working better than it ever has. I'm inclined to think that the system's flaws are just now becoming apparent. Even if Obama or Clinton won every remaining state by a 10% margin in every state, neither would reach the pledged delegate threshold to win the nomination. This means that regardless of what voters have to say at the polls, honorary super delegates and democrat stalwarts will eventually choose who our nominee will be.

Could you write a blog on the historical aspects of the primary process: its role in the past, why this particular election cycle is good or bad, and maybe the 'institutionalization' of the whole process?