This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Monday, November 3, 2014

Demographics of the Midterm Elections

With the Congressional "midterm" (meaning, halfway through the President's time in office) elections coming up tomorrow, there has been a lot of talk about the way in which demographic diversity affects politics in the U.S., and the way in which demographic differences in voting patterns will influence the election results. On this point, there is little controversy. The Census Bureau's Current Population Survey asks questions in the March survey after each election about respondent's voting behavior. For decades the pattern has been for the percent registered and among them the percent voting to increase with age, and for white non-Hispanics to have higher percentages of registration and voting than other ethnic groups. Thus, older whites are typically over-represented in the election booth (metaphorically speaking--many people like me are permanent mail ballot voters). More disturbing from a societal perspective is the long-term decline in the interest surrounding the midterm elections, as the graph below from the Census Bureau shows:

Among Asian and Hispanic citizens, the percent voting has dropped to less than one-third of people, and even among non-Hispanic whites, it has dropped below half. This lack of interest led to a widely-commented upon Op-Ed piece in today's NYTimes suggesting that maybe the Constitution needs to be changed to get rid the midterm elections and only have elections in years that include the Presidential election. I guess my own view would be that if more people actually participated in the process of voting--no matter when it occurs--the special interest groups would lessen their sway and democracy would be something closer to what we envision it to be. This would certainly be facilitated by an increase in mail-in ballots and online voting. At the same time, it is not clear that even if every group increased its participation in voting there would be a change in the decades-old demographic differences in voting patterns. The older population, in particular, is likely to continue to have a greater than proportional representation at the ballot box.

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