Old age has its advantages — at least, in election years

AJC file

AJC file

Growing old isn’t for the faint of heart. But every now and then, age has its temporary advantages.

In election years, especially, you become a measurably more important person, regardless of your station in life.

A single human being registered to vote in Georgia and eligible for Social Security is worth nearly two voters under 40. Even rich and healthy ones. That’s a statistical fact.

And so this fall, we old fogies will romp to the polls, the vanguard of a mostly white, Republican herd. We will thunder and stomp like lumbering dinosaurs in cardigan sweaters. Because there’s a chill in the air, you know. And our time is running out.

If Donald Trump wants to win Georgia, he will need to bring an army of voters 65 and older to the polls with him . It’s the one age group that gave the GOP presidential candidate a commanding (55 percent) lead in last week’s poll by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

By that same token, Trump needs to pour sugar in the gas tank of every car driven by a Georgia voter who’s 39 and younger on Election Day. As much as older voters are comfortable with the hyperbolic, New York businessman, this state’s youngest voters hate him. Seventy-one percent want someone else – whether Democrat Hillary Clinton (44 percent) or Libertarian Gary Johnson (21 percent).

As tools for prognostication, August polls don’t have a long life-span. But last week’s survey made one thing abundantly clear:

We are on the cusp of a great generational war in Georgia. The outcome isn’t in much doubt – just the timing. Republican dominance of this state is likely to continue only until a critical mass of Baby Boomers decide they lack the energy to leave the nursing home, or fill out an absentee ballot.

Here and there, you can see flashes of the coming conflict. This week, a federal voting rights lawsuit was filed against Gwinnett County, where blacks, Latinos and Asians make up nearly 43 percent of the county’s voting population, but hold no positions on the ruling boards of commissioners or education.

Also this week, the Republican National Committee tapped Gainesville attorney Ashley Bell, who is African-American and a former Democrat, to oversee an outreach program to black voters in 11 battleground states. Trump, the GOP standard-bearer, drew the support of 2 percent of black Georgia voters in the AJC poll.

On an intellectual level, Republicans in Washington and Georgia understand that if they’re to survive, they’ll have to change – Trump or no Trump. Along with Bell, the RNC has brought in Elroy Sailor, a Morehouse College grad and public relations specialist, as senior advisor to party chair Reince Priebus.

“With the browning of America, there will not be enough numbers to have a cohesive two-party system – there will not be enough people of color within the Republican party,” Sailor told me.

Yes, the change that’s coming to Georgia and elsewhere is about race and ethnicity, but it’s also about youth and attitudinal differences between generations about marriage, immigration and a bevy of other issues, social and political. They walk hand in hand.

The racial make-up of the current Georgia electorate is about 56 percent white. That’s a percentage sure to decline. Among voters under 30, whites make up 49.4 percent of this year’s electorate.

The next tide of voters aren’t former Reagan babies. In the AJC poll, 51 percent of the 39-and-under crowd identified with or leaned toward the Democratic party. Politically, they are the polar opposite of 65-and-older voters, 54 percent of whom identify with the GOP.

But inevitable doesn’t equate to instant. That’s part of the bright side of growing old. When it comes to voting, we old fogies are loathe to give Charles Darwin his due. We hang on.

Chris Huttman, a well-known Democratic numbers cruncher, pointed me to state Senate District 43 in east metro Atlanta, which has a 65 percent Democratic voting population. It also has a Republican state senator, JaNice VanNess of Conyers. She was elected in 2015 in a special election – one of those contests where only older voters show up.

In District 43, a majority of voters over the age of 55 are still white.

Mark Rountree of Landmark Communications is a (mostly) GOP pollster who also executes surveys for WSB-TV. He helped put many of these numbers in perspective.

Rountree says that, in Georgia, Democrats are at the “Stone Mountain phase” of their demographic journey. A long, gentle climb has gotten them to 46 percent of the electorate or so. “The last 5 percent is almost straight up – just like on Stone Mountain,” he said.

Old folks are largely to blame.

Consider: 1,725,181 voters in Georgia, about 34.5 percent of the electorate are ages 18 to 39. Another fact: 1,003,515 voters, about 20 percent of Georgia electorate, are 65 and older.

Yet when many pollsters “weigh” their surveys – when they adjust their results to conform with the electorate they think will show up in November – under-40 voters and over-65 voters are placed on equal footing, Rountree said.

That’s right. In polling, as on Election Day, 1 million old codgers are worth 1.7 million young whipper-snappers.

It almost makes you want to join the AARP.


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