Swordsman & Geek

A Midsummer Night’s Blog

2016 Election Fundamentals

The election could go either way and we’re challenged to see the pieces on the board as they actually are and not as we wish they were.  That being said, there are several indicators that Clinton has an advantage.  One way of understanding the 2016 election is that there are significant differences between the cohorts of the two parties which we can break down into three key elements:

  1. Age
  2. Race
  3. Gender
Thomas Nast Cartoon from Harper's Weekly

Cartoon by Thomas Nast from Harper’s Weekly.


One useful way of looking at election demographics is by examining generations. The generations that form today’s voting blocs are:

  • Silent Generation
    • Median age ~75
    • Shrinking cohort, very Republican, most reliable voters
  • Baby Boomers
    • Median age ~60
    • Huge cohort, small GOP advantage, reliably votes
  • Gen-X
    • Median age ~45
    • Small cohort, small Democratic advantage, reliably votes
  • Millennials
    • Median age ~20
    • Largest cohort, very liberal, votes presidential elections

Up until recently the Silent generation was the power player at the table by uniting with the Baby Boomers to carry elections for the GOP.  The Millennials are the new power player in town and when they vote, they unite with Gen-X to swing elections for the Democrats.  Millennials (like all young people before them) do not typically vote in mid-terms or primaries which is why the GOP does better in mid-terms.

Conventional wisdom says voters get more conservative as they age but the actual data doesn’t support that.  Instead, as the Silents and the Baby Boomers die, the GOP isn’t replacing them and their base atrophies.  At the same time, the liberal base is larger than it has ever been before which is why very liberal candidates like Al Gore, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Bernie Sanders are even considerable on the national stage.

Analysis:  Based on the generation gap in voting patterns and the size of the upcoming Millennial cohort Democrats have the edge.


The GOP has a very white base (89% of the GOP are white) and that is usually at the expense of the minority vote.

The Winners of the White Vote by Year:

  • Nixon 1968 (Winner) – 68% of the white vote
  • Ford 1976 (Loser) – 52% of the white vote
  • Reagan 1980 (Winner) – 55% of the white vote
  • Reagan 1984 (Winner)- 66% of the white vote
  • Bush 1988 (Winner) – 59% of the white vote
  • Bush 1992 (Loser) – 47% of the white vote
  • Dole 1996 (Loser) – 46% of the white vote
  • Bush 2000 (Winner) – 56% of the white vote
  • Bush 2004 (Winner) – 57% of the white vote
  • McCain 2008 (Loser) – 56% of the white vote
  • Romney 2012 (Loser) – 57% of the white vote

Notice that no Democrat has won the white vote since Johnson but Democrats have won the popular vote in 1992, 1996, 2000, 2008, and 2012.  As a percentage of the electorate the white vote is shrinking by about 1.5% every couple of years and the data indicates that minority voters have more voting power.

With white voting power diminishing a GOP candidate has to either grab a massive percentage of the white vote (Reagan 1984) or gather a larger percentage of the minority vote (Bush 2004).  Consider that both McCain and Romney outperformed Reagan’s 1980 numbers only to lose and that is the hill Jeb Bush needs to climb.  There is no longer a path to the presidency which depends solely on white voters.

Jeb Bush has lots of experience in South and Latin America, he speaks fluent Spanish, and he is married to a Mexican immigrant.  Combine him with Marco Rubio as the veep and he could be the GOP’s best play.  The problem is that Jeb Bush has to win an overwhelmingly white vote in the primary before he can carry his strengths into the national election which can damage him.  (Romney’s remark about self-deportation is one example of how a center-right candidate can cripple himself with minorities during the primary.)

The GOP has been terrible at courting minority voters because they cannot afford to offend their white base.  Notice how quickly state GOP legislators threw themselves onto the confederate flag issue recently.  Local politicians are taking those hits from the white base to shield the GOP presidential candidates.  The GOP needs to move the party away from race issues because that conversation is toxic for their party after the midterms.

In addition, the failure to move on immigration reform and demonizing immigrants have cost the GOP another generation of Hispanic\Latino voters.  The longer Trump talks about race in the primary and the more press he gets doing it, the harder it is for Jeb Bush to gather these voters into his camp.

On the other hand, Hillary Clinton will appeal to some white voters that would not vote for Obama.  That translates to a larger share of the white vote nationally while still grabbing the lion’s share of the minority vote.  If Clinton grabs Julian Castro as her veep she can compete more effectively for minority votes and largely counters the Bush & Rubio combo.

Analysis:  Based on the voting patterns of the racial cohorts Democrats have the edge.  A better question might be, “Can Jeb Bush be the next 1984 Reagan?”  I think that’s unlikely when you look again at the way Millennials vote.


Democrats have been taking the largest share of the female vote since the 1992 election.

The Winners of the Female Vote by Year:

  • Clinton 1992 (Winner) – 46% of the female vote
  • Clinton 1996 (Winner) – 54% of the female vote
  • Gore 2000 (Loser) – 53% of the female vote
  • Kerry 2004 (Loser) – 52% of the female vote
  • Obama 2008 (Winner) – 57% of the female vote
  • Obama 2012 (Winner) – 57% of the female vote

Republicans have not won the female vote since 1988 even with Palin as a female veep in 2008.  They are not in alignment with the majority of women in the USA on a range of issues (Same-sex marriage, abortion, equal pay, and more).  However, the overriding factor is that with Hillary on the ticket there is every reason to expect that the share of the female vote for the Democrats will reach historic levels.

Analysis:  Women are over half the American population and Democrats have grabbed over 50% of the female vote in the last 5 elections.  It is not madness to think Hillary could beat previous performance in this cohort of voters as the first female presidential candidate.


A lot can happen between now and November 2016.  However, with the economy recovering and considering the cohorts I covered above, it is Hillary Clinton’s election to lose.  Jeb Bush would need either a massive share of the white vote, an unusual share of the minority vote, or more of the female vote to cross the finish line.

What do you think?

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