When it comes to elections, demographics matter. When we say “demographics,” we are referring to the statistical breakdown of the voters in your election district:
who are they? how much money do they make?
how do they identify themselves? what characteristics can we use to segment them?
Winning campaigns start by analyzing demographic data through the lens of the candidate’s key issues:
which demographics can we persuade to vote for our campaign based on our candidate’s stances?
Which demographics will respond to our opponent’s stances?
The campaign then tries to assemble a coalition of voter segments to reach the magic 50%+1 votes needed to win the election.
It may be tempting to think that in every election, you need to throw the old playbook out and look at new ways to slice and dice the electorate.
This is a mistake.
While some new demographics do emerge over time (for example, level of engagement on social media), the truth is that the best ways to segment your voter universe are using tried-and-true demographic groupings. What does change, however, is the relative makeup of those demographics, as well as which groupings are most important in any given election cycle.
The most important single demographics to use, of course, are party identification and voting history. Voters who are members of the same party as your candidate are the most likely to vote for him or her, and members of your opponent’s party are least likely to vote for your guy or girl. Independent voters tend to move between the two. Similarly, you’ll want to target voters who always vote, or usually vote, before going after voters who rarely if ever go to the polls on Election Day.
Beyond that baseline, here are the key voter demographics to keep an eye on during the 2018 election cycle:
Voters’ age will continue to be an important demographic to consider in 2018. With nearly all baby boomers reaching retirement age and a wave of millennials voting in their first elections, age will almost certainly be a factor.
Older voters tend to be more fiscally conservative, protective of services for seniors, and more supportive of the military.
Younger voters tend to see themselves as more progressive, and in the aggregate seem to be less wary of government intrusion into and regulation of daily life. Younger voters are also hyper-connected through social media, which makes them respond to trends much faster than their senior counterparts.
Gender & Race
Despite nearly annual declarations in the media to the contrary, gender and race remain key demographic indicators for today’s candidates.
Data shows that men favor Republican and more conservative candidates, while women favor Democratic and more liberal candidates. This indicator is fluid for any one voter or any one precinct, but in the aggregate, these generalizations are true.
Similarly, black voters overwhelmingly support Democrats, Hispanic / Latino and Asian voters tend to support Democrats (though in lesser numbers than their black counterparts), while white voters ten to favor Republican candidates.
Another important demographic indicator is church attendance. Those voters who say that they attend church regularly are, as a whole, more conservative (including fiscally and socially) than their non-church attending neighbors.
According to polling data, the more regularly someone attends religious services, the more likely they are to support conservative candidates. Thus, weekly church attendees seem to be more conservative than monthly attendees, who are more conservative than occasional attendees, etc.
A tried-but-true demographic segment that will remain important in 2018 is military veterans. Not surprisingly, polling data shows that veterans care about military spending and issues, as well as issues surrounding veterans’ benefits. Thus, those who have served in the military tend to lean slightly to the right, with Republicans and conservatives being perceived as stronger advocates for the military in general and veterans in particular. This issue will be particularly important for federal candidates in light of recent mishaps at the Department of Veterans Affairs.