A new study produced by the Pew Research Center has found that from December 2015 to March 2017, voters in a key voting demographic were more likely to remain loyal to the Republican Party than people who identified as Democrats were.
According to the study, released on May 17, 86 percent of Americans in the 50-64 demographic continuously identified themselves as Republican from December 2015 to March 2017. Only 72 percent of Democrats in the same demographic continuously remained tied to that party. According to the study, 10 percent of Democrats aged 50-64 stopped identifying as part of the Democratic Party at some point but returned, while 14 percent switched to the Republican Party and did not return. The results showed nearly identical results for Democrats and Republicans in the 30-49 demographic and the 65 and older demographic.
The data used to conduct the Pew study were composed of answers given by 5,154 “panelists” from six surveys taken in “December 2015, April, August, December 2016, and March and April 2017.”
When all age groups were considered, the researchers found nearly identical results for the two political parties. From December 2015 to March 2017, 78 percent of people identifying as Republicans remained Republican over the entire study period, while 9 percent left but returned and 11 percent switched to the Democratic Party side. Similarly, 79 percent of Democrats consistently identified with the party over the same period, while 9 percent left but returned and 10 percent left and did not return.
The data used in the study were weighted to account for multiple perceived biases in the study, such as differences in people who agree to participate in studies compared to those who don’t.
These findings could mean Democrats will have a very difficult time winning back seats in the House and Senate in 2018, the next scheduled election, because the 50-64 demographic is one of the most active, large and wealthy voting blocs. They also tend to make up a disproportionate percentage of the electorate in many important suburban and rural areas, where Democrats struggled mightily in 2016.
The one bright spot for Democrats in the study was that younger voters were much more likely to remain loyal if they identified as part of or leaning toward the Democratic Party in December 2015 than Republicans were over the same period. Only 58 percent of Republicans aged 18 to 29 remained consistently in the party over the study period, while 76 percent of Democrats of the same demographic were consistently loyal. Even worse for Republicans, 23 percent of young Republicans defected to the Democratic Party and did not return. Only 9 percent of young Democrats defected and did not return.
While this could help narrow the gap for Democrats in 2020, it’s unlikely to help them in 2018. Young voters have been historically unreliable, especially in non-presidential-election years, and over the past two decades, they’ve been moving in increasing numbers to urban centers, where Democrats have long been successful. In 2016, Donald Trump won 2,622 counties (only includes those that report county-level data) across the United States, while Hillary Clinton won only 490. Congressional elections favor the party that does better in rural and suburban areas, which means in order for Democrats to gain significant ground, especially in the House, they’d need to win back some of the rural and suburban voters they lost during President Barack Obama’s administration. That seems unlikely to occur given the Pew Research Center’s findings.