News & Politics

Attention Boomers: 2020 Democratic Candidates Don't Want Your Vote

Attention Boomers: 2020 Democratic Candidates Don't Want Your Vote
(Chase Stevens/Las Vegas Review-Journal via AP)

My PJM colleague Jim Treacher has the story of Beto O’Rourke’s plunge into the maelstrom that is the 2020 Democratic race for the presidential nomination. Beto is expected to do well with several factions of Democratic voters, including Hispanics and the young. As Treacher points out, he already has the press in his corner.

But the ever-burgeoning field of candidates presents a problem for anyone wanting the nomination. The money, the energy, and the passion are with younger voters, but the majority of voters who will cast their ballots for Democratic candidates are over 45.

Hey Democrats! Remember the Baby Boomers?

Old political hand Ron Brownstein writing in The Atlantic:

The competition might be especially spirited for younger voters. Sanders, despite his own age, dominated this demographic in 2016 with his crusty authenticity; he won more than 70 percent of those ages 18 to 34, according to the cumulative exit poll. With his mastery of social media, and his skill at framing choices more in terms of values than policies, O’Rourke in Texas displayed an electric capacity to mobilize young people: He carried more than 70 percent of voters under 30 in his Senate race. With that in mind, some Sanders supporters are already privately signaling that they are prepared to attack O’Rourke from the left, arguing that he’s too centrist for younger voters.

Those attacks are already well underway. O’Rourke is an addle-brained liberal, but he looks like a centrist compared to Sanders.

The two black candidates, Senators Kamala Harris and Cory Booker, will split the black vote and could potentially appeal to younger black voters. In fact, every candidate entered in the race so far has potential appeal to each constituency in the old Obama coalition that elected him twice.

But the reality is that 60 percent of voters who will cast a ballot for the eventual nominee are over 45 and two-thirds of those voters are white. Brownstein sees an opening for “Uncle Joe” Biden, who might turn off the hipsters, but whose appeal and familiarity might allow him to dominate older voters in a huge field:

But overall, Biden might confront less formidable competition for older voters than Sanders, O’Rourke, and the rest will face for younger ones. “Biden has a unique opportunity with voters over 45, and this includes whites, blacks, and Hispanics,” says one Democratic strategist in close contact with his camp. “I am not really sure who competes with him for older voters directly. I just think he will dominate, and then 10 candidates will nibble around the edges.”

Other campaigns are hardly ready to concede that Biden can sustain an edge with older voters if he enters the race. “I am sure he has an advantage right now based on atmospherics, but is there an intrinsic advantage there?” says a senior adviser to one of the other top-tier candidates. “I would say the answer is no. I think … middle-aged and older voters are sometimes the most interested in new leadership.”

Biden will get his share of white working-class voters in northern states. He should get a decent share of the minority vote, the educated, females, and voters in the “regular” Democratic Party. But Biden will rise or fall based on the average Democratic voter — white, older, less radicalized, and more interested in electing someone who will get things done rather than stick it to the political opposition.

We’ll see what happens when the huge field is winnowed down to two or three candidates, but if Biden can dominate the early contests by attracting older, whiter voters, he might gain enough momentum to coast to the nomination before the energy and passion of the activist class can affect the outcome.