The 2010 electorate: Old, white, rich and Republican

McClatchy NewspapersNovember 22, 2010 

WASHINGTON — The 2010 elections turned into a rout of the Democrats because the elderly and wealthy surged to the polls to help sweep the Republicans back into power, and the balance of women's votes shifted to the GOP as well, according to a new report.

The study released Monday by Project Vote, a nonpartisan, nonprofit group, also found that turnout by pro-Democratic blocs such as African-Americans, young people and Latinos dropped sharply from 2008 levels, leaving a lopsided pro-Republican electorate to dominate the national landscape.

Most of these trends are normal in nonpresidential elections, because presidential campaigns galvanize broader turnout trends. In most ways, turnout in 2010 was similar to the last midterm election in 2006.

However, one striking development helped Democrats in a few races: Hispanic voting surged in several states, helping Democrats win hotly contested Senate races in California, Colorado and Nevada.

Perhaps the most significant point about voter turnout in 2010 is how many voters didn't vote. Some 38 percent of eligible voters didn't vote in 2008. This November, 33 percent of those who voted in 2008 stayed home, which means that "nonvoters were the majority in 2010," the report said.

Compared with 2008, voting dropped off this year particularly among pro-Democratic groups:

  • Young voters were down by 55 percent.
  • African-Americans were down by 43 percent.
  • Hispanics were down by 40 percent.

Of those voters who did show up this year, 4 out of 5 were white, 1 in 10 was African-American and 1 in 13 was Latino. The analysis is based primarily on exit poll data and preliminary estimates from the U.S. Elections Project.

Senior citizens turned out in force — their turnout was 16 percent higher than in the last midterm election of 2006, and 59 percent of them voted Republican, up 10 percentage points from 2006. While voters 65 and older are about 13 percent of the U.S. population, they made up 21 percent of this year's electorate.

Rich people voted heavily too. Total ballots cast by people making $200,000 a year or more expanded by 68 percent over 2006, the study found. Those making from $100,000 to $200,000 cast 11 percent more ballots than they did in 2006. The share of the vote declined for those making less than $50,000 annually.

"It is fair to say that 2010 was the year of older, rich people," the study said.

It's also fair to say that they tilted Republican more than the expanded electorate of the 2008 presidential campaign. For example, this year fully 41 percent of voters said they supported the tea party movement.

Women voters' turnout surged significantly over 2006 as well — and the traditional gender gap vanished. In 2006, women voted Democratic by 55 percent to 43 percent for Republicans. This year, women voted 49 percent for Republicans and 48 percent for Democrats.

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