The Declining Significance of Reagan Voters


Reader J.C. emails in:

Your colleagues over at ThinkProgress have a post up talking about Limbaugh’s speech at CPAC. In his address, Limbaugh claims that Dems can’t “can’t accomplish what they want unless they appeal to Reagan voters,” and for years, I would have agreed with him; but it seems to me that younger voters – of whom I am one – are not nearly as enamoured with the cowboy president as our parents were. Public opinion of Reagan is gradually changing, and he seems to get more criticism for his mistakes now than he did during and directly following his presidency. All those calls for his head to be on Rushmore or the $100 bill have quieted as his domestic and economic policies appear more and more problematic.

So here is a question for you: How many of the Reagan voters have come out from under the spell of the Great Communicator? Perhaps more specifically, how many of the people who voted for Reagan are now dead, replaced by Obama voters? Some cold, hard numbers could help fight Limbaugh’s dictums, or at least our perception of the validity of those claims.

I think this nails the basic problem with nostalgia for the Reagan electoral coalition. When Reagan won in 1980, the younger people allowed to vote were born in 1962. In the last election, voters who are at least that old were somewhat more than half the electorate and John McCain did fine with this group:


Specifically, McCain won about 51 percent of the vote among the approximately 53 percent of the electorate that was at least 45 years old. But Obama won a decisive victory among Americans younger than 45—precisely none of whom were part of Ronald Reagan’s original coalition, and few of whom were part of his 1984 re-election campaign. Four years from now, Americans who were too young to vote in 1980 will be an even larger share of the electorate. Obviously, one could link this to other changes in the racial and ethnic makeup of the electorate and specific generational differences in point-of-view on environmental and gay rights issues.