Demographics: 2010 vs 2008

The 2010 electorate was whiter, older, and more conservative than that of 2008.

Michael Tomasky compares the exit polls from the last two elections and notes decided demographic differences:

Certain figures weren’t very different from 2008. The men/women split was the same over both elections, 47% male and 53% female. The “white-no college” category, which we roughly equate with the concept of the white working class, accounted for the same 39% of this year’s vote as it did in 2008. Those voters did vote somewhat more Republican this time. They went for McCain by 58-40% and voted Republican this year by 62-35%.

Here, as far as I can see, are the three big top-line differences:

  1. The 2008 electorate was 74% white, plus 13% black and 9% Latino. The 2010 numbers were 78, 10 and 8. So it was a considerably whiter electorate.
  2. In 2008, 18-to-29-year-olds made up 18% and those 65-plus made up 16%. Young people actually outvoted old people. This year, the young cohort was down to 11%, and the seniors were up to a whopping 23% of the electorate. That’s a 24-point flip.
  3. The liberal-moderate-conservative numbers in 2008 were 22%, 44% and 34%. Those numbers for yesterday were 20%, 39% and 41%. A big conservative jump, but in all likelihood because liberals didn’t vote in big numbers.

None of which is shocking, of course.   In 2008, eight years of Bush, a bad economy, and a fresh, charismatic leader expected to win at the top of the ticket motivated Democrats to turn out.   In 2010, a bad economy, an aggressive Democratic agenda, and a wave of fresh candidates motivated Republicans.  At the same time, young Democrats were demotivated by a not-aggressive-enough Progressive agenda and polls showing their side was likely to lose.

Moreover, 2010 was a return to normal.  Whites and the elderly almost always turn out at higher rates.

FILED UNDER: 2010 Election, Public Opinion Polls, US Politics, , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Not to mention that older whites are more likely to vote, in general, in a mid-term election.

  2. Boyd says:

    As I draw ever closer to the over-65 cohort, I’m beginning to object to them being called “elderly.”

    You young whippersnapper, you.

  3. Alex Knapp says:

    Wait – are you implying that the GOP’s base voters are old white people or something? Crazy!

  4. steve says:

    Old white people who like Medicare. Expect wealth redistribution to the elderly, sorry Boyd, to continue. Errrr, wait, I am getting close too.


  5. PD Shaw says:

    The NY Times has an interesting graphic on it’s front page, showing that all groups that showed up were more likely to vote Republican in 2010 than 2008. So, more blacks voted Republican and more young people as well.

  6. JKB says:

    young Democrats were demotivated

    Demotivated yes, but perhaps having graduated with a fine education but only being able to get work slinging Happy Meals at Mickey Ds has something to do with it. Or maybe their mommy and daddy told them if they vote for those Democrats again, they’re breaking the kids plate so they can live independently in their socialist paradise.

    2008 was a party and everybody wanted to attend. 2010 is time for clean up and certain types made themselves scarce.

  7. An Interested Party says:

    “2010 is time for clean up and certain types made themselves scarce.”

    Oh please…as if the mess started in 2008…