Tuesday, July 2, 2013

PART II: The "Age" Factor - Approaching 70 isn't a great place to be for someone with an old "youth vote" deficit

A variety of young or new faces seem capable of exploiting Hillary's 2008 weakness with young Democratic primary voters. From left, TX Rep. Joaquin Castro, Newark Mayor Cory Booker, Hillary Clinton, San Antonio Julian Castro, and newly-elected Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

Though Hillary Clinton caught a bit of bad press recently regarding her national favorability rating, her continued strength as a Democratic primary contender remains unfazed by the factors that caused her popularity to take a slight dip last month, at least according to public polling on the matter.

The most recent survey on the race shows Clinton leading all of her likely Democratic opponents AND undecideds by a miraculous 63-37%, besting her closest competitor Joe Biden by 50 points!

It may all sound a bit like deja vu, until you realize that Hillary is out-distancing her potential 2016 competitors by a far greater margin than she ever did in 2008. Her 2016 polling averages are strong among the groups she's been historically strong with (whites, Hispanics, and women), as well as the groups she performed poorly with in 2008 (blacks, men, 'very liberal' voters).

But there was another group, besides the "change voters" discussed in Part I of this series, that were particularly down on Hillary during her battle with Barack Obama: 18-29 year olds. And if 2008 is any guide, Hillary will want to do some serious advance work on nailing down the youth vote, strong early polling aside.

Despite recent chatter in some conservative circles proposing preemptive attacks on Hillary Clinton's age in preparation for 2016, advanced age in and of itself is certainly no bar to a party's nomination (for recent examples, see Bob Dole and John McCain), nor even the the presidency (see Ronald Reagan).

But when you couple that advanced age with a historical weakness among young voters, you can see why Hillary may need to be creative with ways to reach out to this increasingly influential Democratic voting block.

What do I mean by Hillary Clinton's "weakness with young voters"? I mean that she lost 18-29 year-olds in 2008 to Barack Obama by a significant 60-34%. I also mean that she won 18-29 year olds in just 5 of 40 contests where exit polling was conducted (Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, Massachusetts, and West Virginia). Moreover, as the chart below indicates, she lost the next youngest age group, 30-44 year olds, to Obama by a hefty 13 points (54-41%).

Exit Poll Data compiled from CNN. National figures were compiled from state-by-state exit polling, the results of which can be found here.
It isn't until the 45-59 age group that Hillary even reaches parity with Obama, tying him 47-47%. Her only significant advantage among any age group came with Democratic primary voters aged 60 and older (Obama only won this age group in 6 of 40 exit-polled contested (Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, South Carolina, Vermont, and Virginia)

Another way to illustrate the damaging effect of the youth vote on Hillary Clinton's 2008 Presidential aspirations is to break down the age vote in a way exit pollsters did not: young voters (18-29 year olds), and everyone else (30 years old and older). Hillary carried the latter age group, which made up a whopping 86% of the 2008 Democratic Primary electorate by 4 points, 49-45%. But Obama's win among 18-29 year olds, despite making up only 14% of the total Democratic Primary electorate, was large enough to give him the delegate count to win.

As I've pointed out before, Hillary has little reason for alarm at this point, based on polling. The chart below notes Hillary's poll averages among various age groups in 2016 Democratic Primary Polling to date (or at least among the pollsters that provided crosstabs for age):

She mops the floor with all other candidates, including the percentage of respondents that remain undecided. In only one circumstance (a PPP poll over one year old) across seven surveys has Hillary Clinton found herself under 50% in a single age subgroup.

A closer look at the numbers, however, reveals that while she is strong with voters under the age of 45, it's not as strong as with other age groups. Averaging 58% with 18-45 year olds at this early stage of the process is indicative of a very, very strong candidate indeed. But that 58% is lower than the 64% she currently averages with voters over 65 years old, and the 68% she averages among middle-aged people (46-65 year olds).

In short, I'll reiterate what was said above: the "age" factor, in and of itself, will likely not damage Clinton in her pursuit of the Democratic nomination, or ultimately, the Presidency. Besides, it's all in how you present yourself. John McCain was ribbed for his old age frequently in 2008 because, well, to be honest, he did a few things to make us question his senility.  The same with Bob Dole in 1996. But no one was laughing at Ronald Reagan in 1980 after this performance. Even when voters saw Reagan's advanced age on display in the second 1984 debate with Walter Mondale, they forgave him due to a rapidly improving economy. Hillary Clinton has proven herself to be of sound mind to the American people thus far. Absent some clumsy fall off a stage or embarrassing "senior moment," her being 70 years old will do little to change that.

Still, 70 years old isn't the ideal age for a candidate that can't afford to lose youth voters by the margin they did eight years earlier. If Clinton does launch another bid, anticipate early and continuous youth outreach.

Coming soon: Part III: the "race" factor

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