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Seniors are Consistent Voters, Increasingly Larger Share of Vote

Trend line says seniors will dominate future elections

By Tucker Sutherland, editor,

Oct. 28, 2004 Senior issues Medicare, importing drugs, Social Security are receiving minimal attention in the wild presidential election, which may be a mistake, since those 65 and older are by far the most prolific voters in America. We can be relatively certain that one of every five votes cast will be by someone 65 or older and that seniors will continue to be a larger percentage of those who vote.

The percentage of the growing senior population that votes leads by far any other age group. In the 2000 election, almost 70 percent (67.6) of those 65 and up voted, while just over 50 percent (52.2) of younger voters cast a ballot.

An amazing 70 percent of those between the ages of 65 and 75 voted in the last presidential election to lead all age groups. On the low end were the young 18 to 24-year-olds, that produced only a 32.2 percent turnout..

Almost forgotten, however, is that the 2000 presidential election almost set a record for the worst voting rates on record. The 55 percent rate for the total voting-age population in 2000, was just above the 1996 rate of 54 percent.

This chart shows voting by age group with the 65 to 75 group combined with the 75 and over group.

Two years ago, in the off-presidential-year voting, rates were again very low. The turn-out for all voters was only 42.3 percent in 2002, the second worse performance in 20 years. The worst in this period was in 1998, when only 41.9 percent voted.

Seniors, on the other hand, continued to vote at a high rate in these off years A 61 percent rate in 2002, and 59.5 in 1998. These are about the same voting rates for seniors that were recorded in all the off-year elections since 1980.

Looking just at presidential elections, the percentage of those 65 and older who voted has been an increasing percentage - passing that of other voters in 1976 and consistently increasing the gap. If this trend continues, and the elderly population increases at the rapid pace predicted, the senior vote will increasingly dominated elections.


Looking again at off-year elections is even more telling. Seniors have voted in larger percentages than younger voters in every election since 1966. And, the gap has consistently widened.

Year 65+ Population % Voting All Voting Age Population % Voting
2002 33,892 61.0 210,421 42.3
2000 32,764 67.6 202,609 54.7
1998 32,263 59.5 198,228 41.9
1996 31,888 67.0 193,651 54.2
1994 31,144 61.3 190,267 45.0
1992 30,846 70.1 185,684 61.3
1990 29,874 60.3 182,118 45.0
1988 28,804 68.8 178,098 57.4
1986 27,712 60.9 173,890 46.0
1984 26,658 67.7 169,963 59.9
1982 25,598 59.9 165,483 48.5
1980 24,094 65.1 157,085 59.3
1978 23,001 55.9 151,646 45.9
1976 22,001 62.2 146,548 59.2
1974 20,955 51.4 141,299 44.7
1972 20,074 63.5 136,203 63.0
1970 19,141 57.0 120,701 54.6
1968 18,468 65.8 116,535 67.8
1966 17,817 56.1 112,800 55.4
1964 17,269 66.3 110,604 69.3


Despite the growing dominance of the senior vote, their vote is hard to predict; for example, when considering an issue like Medicare the grandparent may be more concerned about how it will impact their grandchildren.

"Counter to the political stereotype of seniors as single-issue, self-interested voters, a strong majority of American grandparents say they will be casting their vote this election day with the interests of their grandchildren in mind," according to the new Ipsos-Public Affairs poll released today by the non-partisan group,

Three out of four American grandparents (75 percent) strongly agree that in the upcoming Presidential election, they will vote their grandchildren's long-term interests, as well as issues that affect them personally in the near term.

Surprisingly, grandparents consider the impact on their grandchildren even when asked about powerful senior voting issues. About three-quarters of grandparents (73 percent) stated that their views of Social Security and Medicare were influenced by the interests of their grandchildren. Only 26 percent said they make up their mind on Social Security and Medicare mostly on the basis of how it will affect them in the short-term.

Then, too, you have issues like the debate over the Iraq War and the war on terrorism in this year's election, that could effect seniors differently. Many lived through WWII, Korea and Vietnam. "War" has a different ring in their ear, which could ignite their national loyalties and support of the military leaders, including the commander-in-chief.

But, too, seniors have a lot to ponder in their own day-to-day lives. Many, if not most, are in an increasingly tightening financial bind. A recent survey said an astonishing 94 percent expect Social Security to be their primary source of income during retirement. The income paid to these seniors by Social Security comes from dollars withheld from the paychecks of current workers. Many seniors worry that if these workers are able to divert some of this money to private investment accounts it will place their income in jeopardy.

The battle over prescription drugs is no less a worry. The increases for Social Security payments are made based primarily on over-all inflation, while the cost of drugs is far outstripping the cost of other goods and services. The retiree's income continues to shrink.

 Many see lowering the cost of these drugs as an important issue, but the Bush Administration has refused to allow the importation of lower-cost drugs, or to allow Medicare to negotiate lower prices with drug companies, as the VA does for veterans.

A survey in August found that, as of July 2004, nearly twice as many people on Medicare have an unfavorable view of the law (47%) as have a favorable view (26%), and one in four (25%) say that they don't know enough to offer an opinion.

Overall, two out of three people on Medicare (66%) say that lawmakers in Washington should work to fix problems in the law. Much smaller numbers favor repealing the law (10%) or leaving the law as is (13%), according to a national survey of 1,223 seniors and people with disabilities who receive Medicare conducted from June 16 to July 21.

The survey, Views of the New Medicare Drug Law: A Survey of People On Medicare, was conducted jointly by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health.

So, there may not be a senior-block vote - all feeling the same way. But pollster John Zogby reported today, "President Bush's push to partially privatize Social Security, combined with worry about health care costs, appears to be tilting older Americans toward Democrat John Kerry in the presidential election. Yet, seniors are reportedly uneasy about switching leadership while the war in Iraq is unsettled and terrorism remains a threat."


  Historical Voting

In the past ten Presidential elections, the highest proportion voting was 69 percent in 1964, the earliest year the Census Bureau began collecting voting data. Since 1976, voting rates have remained near or below 60 percent. The largest increase (4 percentage points) in voter turnout occurred between the 1988 and 1992 elections, thus making the 1992 election the most participated in election since 1972. Turnout dropped again by 7 percentage points in the 1996 election.

The slight increase in voter turnout between 1996 and 2000 was driven primarily by women, White non- Hispanics, and Blacks. Turnout rates did not differ significantly between the two election years for men, any age group, Asians and Pacific Islanders, and Hispanics, while the national registration rate dropped to a record low.

The percent of the voting-age population who were registered to vote in the 2000 election was at an all-time low of 64 percent. Historically, registration rates have dropped from 74 percent in 1968 (the first year data are available), and ranged from 66 percent to 68 percent from 1976 to 1996.

Even so, because of the overwhelming population growth of the votingage population, the 2000 election had a record number of people registered to vote 130 million.

Registration rates among the voting age population dropped significantly between the 1996 and 2000 elections for men, women, White non- Hispanics, and all age groups below 65. Registration rates remained unchanged between the two Presidential elections for Blacks, Asian and Pacific Islanders, Hispanics and the age group 65 and over.17

Most of the statistics in this article are from the U.S. Census Bureau. For a copy of their report on the 2000 Elections (pdf) - Click Here


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