Blogcritics readers are familiar primarily with my political commentary, but likely only peripherally aware that I also work as a political consultant. One part of that work is issue and candidate polling carried out through my firm Azimuth Research Group. We’ve been polling very actively during this period leading into the 2012 election and all of our polls include general control questions which are not the primariy focus of the poll but can provide useful demographic information to put results in perspective. Since most of our polls are of Republican voters, over time these demographic questions provide us with a useful snapshot of the GOP membership.
One of the standard control questions which we ask with most of our polls is the age of participants. 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.
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
Right to Life
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
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.
Dave Nalle is Executive Director of the Texas Liberty Foundation, Chairman of the Center for Foreign and Defense Policy, South Central Regional Director for the Republican Liberty Caucus and an advisory board member at the Coalition to Reduce Spending. He was Texas State Director for the Gary Johnson Presidential campaign, an adviser to the Ted Cruz senatorial campaign, Communications Director for the Travis County Republican Party and National Chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus. He has also consulted on many political campaigns, specializing in messaging. Before focusing on political activism, he owned or was a partner in several businesses in the publishing industry and taught college-level history for 20 years.