Within the US young, college aged, individuals are commonly thought of being more attracted to the democratic party, while it's also commonly believed that the elderly usually vote republican. I believe studies have backed these general archetypes up by showing that Democrats tend to see a larger percentage of the college-age demographic, and elderly shown to significantly favor republican candidates.

However, it seems to me when I meet people, particularly the ones that regularly vote and associate themselves with either party, they seem to be pretty adamant about the party as a whole. It's hard for me to imagine them changing political parties; for that matter I suspect many voters don't even know how to actually change which party they are registered to.

I'm wondering if the statistics showing the young favor a different party then they old imply that people (on average) tend to adjust which party they lean towards over the course of their age? Or is the discrepancy due to some other statistical trends. For instance do democratically inclined voters tending to stop voting as they age and Republican inclined voters tending to start voting more as they age. Ie people stick to the same party and all that changes is their tendency to vote.

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    Why people vote the way they vote is a pretty broad topic. But your question is interesting. I have a hunch it's that people simply change their viewpoints as they get older. But I am curious as to if it's also based on voter apathy as you hint at.
    – user1530
    Aug 21, 2015 at 20:51
  • @blip oh I know i'm talking in large statistical generalities now. I'm by no means claiming all young people are democratic or all old people are republican, or even a tendency to vote republican means you actually are registered republican. Still, I'm curious what causes those broad statistical fluctuations. I'd love to find a study on it if I knew where to look.
    – dsollen
    Aug 21, 2015 at 21:43
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    My take on your question is this: do old people vote conservative because they have changed their views as they aged, or because of the experiences and culture they grew up with? Or some combination of these?
    – aaaidan
    Aug 21, 2015 at 23:32
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    I think the question can be summed up as "Do more young people vote democrat and more old people vote republican due to individual political stances changing over time, or because more democrats vote while young, and more republicans vote while older.?"
    – user1530
    Aug 21, 2015 at 23:39
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    People at different life stages have different priorities. Life stages are correlated with age. If most voters vote on a narrow, self-interested basis, and if distribution of headline policies attractive to people in different life stages is uneven across Democratic and Republican parties, then you will see a correllation of age with political party.
    – 52d6c6af
    Aug 23, 2015 at 18:25

5 Answers 5


This is fairly difficult to gauge in U.S. politics because of the ongoing process of realignment.

In 1950, Southern whites were predominantly Democrats, while blacks in the South were predominantly Republicans. These days, of course, those positions are reversed. Southern whites were alienated from the Democratic party when it embraced the Civil Rights movement and gravitated towards the only viable alternative, the Republican party, instead, first in federal elections, and eventually in state and local elections.

Likewise, as recently as the 1970s, the Republican party was thriving in the Northeast, while today, only a handful of Representatives and Senators in the U.S. Congress from the Northeast are Republicans.

Many people attribute this shift to Republican Presidential nominee Goldwater's "Southern Strategy". Candidates like Eisenhower, Nixon and even Ronald Reagan (who was an actor and a union President) would all probably be too far to the left to have any reasonable shot as winning a Republican Presidential nomination today.

As recently as the 1980s, at the federal level, the U.S. had what amounts to a three party system with Southern Democrats swinging between Republicans and Northern Democrats - favoring Republicans on military and social issues, and favoring Democrats on economic issues. Today, there are almost no moderates in Congress with all Democrats being more liberal than all Republicans on almost every issue.

People's political views have been considerably more static than their party affiliations.

UPDATE ADDED August 19, 2020:

Another confounding factor is that in absolute terms, the political center has consistently moved towards the left over time.

For example, in the 1950s segregationist members of the U.S. Congress, who were in tune with their constituencies, railed against interracial marriage, and in the 1960s civil rights icon Martin Luther King, Jr. while outspoken on many civil rights issues was loath to focus on the "social question" of interracial marriage. But after the U.S. Supreme Court decided the case of Loving v. Virginia declaring laws that prohibited interracial marriage to be unconstitutional, public opinion changed. And, by the 1980s, formerly segregationist U.S. Senators who had decried interracial marriages as abominations had Congressional staff members who were in interracial marriages.

In general, the political leanings of particular geographic regions tend to be very stable over time frames of hundreds of years on whether they lean conservative or liberal relative to a nation as a whole on all manner of diverse issues. But a position that would be considered to be a decidedly liberal position at one point, such as a policy position that same sex couple relationships should not be legally recognized but should also not be criminalized, may at another point in time become a decidedly conservative position.

While there have been ebbs and flows back and forth in more conservative and more liberal directions, in the long run, on the scale of decades or longer, there has been a consistent secular trend towards more liberal political views.

So, if you are measuring a particular individual's liberal v. conservative leanings on a basis relative to others, rather than in absolute terms, older people tend to become more conservative over time simply because their views, more or less solidified when they became politically aware and first seriously considered these issues may not have changed as rapidly as the views of the general public as a whole.

Since political parties must constantly renegotiate the terms of their stance on the liberal to conservative spectrum in absolute terms, as part of their party platforms, in order to continue to have a viable chance of securing majority legislative support for some or all of their agenda, the partisan dividing line between political parties, all other things being equal, tends to encourage someone whose political views in absolute terms remain constant or changes less quickly than the population as a whole from left leaning parties to parties to the right of their original political party affiliations.

Examples other than civil rights of issues which have shown secular trends to the left over time in the modern U.S. include alcohol prohibition, marijuana legalization, support for mandatory minimum sentences for crack cocaine offenses, support for environmental regulation, support for stricter regulation of police misconduct, support for legalization of hormonal birth control, tolerance for out of wedlock births, opposition to corporal punishment for crimes and misconduct, reductions in the stigma associated with divorce, acceptance of profanity, violence and nudity in media oriented towards children, recognition of the health risks of smoking, support for workplace and public safety laws, acceptance of government subsidized health care programs, recognition of martial rape as a crime, and tolerance for non-Christian religions.

But because of the realignment process in the United States (e.g. in 1919-1920 the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution giving women the right to vote was opposed most strongly by conservative Democrats in the South and had much wider support from mostly Northern and Western Republicans), however, the natural tendency of people's views on particular concrete policy positions to be viewed as more conservative over time, this subtle and gradual effect is swamped by realignment and impossible to disentangle by looking at changes in political party affiliations and identities in the 20th century.


There is some indication that political views are strongly influenced by when someone first becomes politically aware. For example, this graph from Pew suggests that the perceived performance of a US presidential administration when someone becomes an adult has a large effect on how they form their political views:

enter image description here

Most relevant would be the Greatest generation under Roosevelt, which contradicts the idea that greater age would directly correlate to Republicanism. There is no recent Republican administration that is widely seen as a success or a Democratic administration that is widely seen as a failure so it's harder to test for the younger age ranges, but Nixon being associated with Democrats and then Carter and Reagan being associated with Republicans would track with their perceived performance as well.

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    This is a great visualization that is sadly 10 years out of date, so the "current age" should be adjusted +10.
    – shoover
    Aug 20, 2020 at 2:32
  • a similar survey from 2014
    – dan04
    Aug 20, 2020 at 4:13

There is a discussion about a similar trend in the UK here, which summarises research published by the author here. In short, people tend to switch political allegiances over time, so formerly left-leaning individuals do change their allegiance to the right, by about 0.35% of the population per year with age.

Why this happens is likely a combination of factors: such as changing priorities for individuals. Also, the research notes that people can be more-or-less conservative depending on when they reach adulthood, so the political climate during their formative years could have a significant effect on political preferences over long periods of time.

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    It could be as simple as older people being less willing to risk losing what they've acquired. Aug 18, 2020 at 9:38
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    As I note in an updated answer, if someone has stable views about specific resolution of policy issues, there is a tendency for someone who maintains those views to be viewed as more conservative over time because there is a secular long term trend towards the political center moving to the left over long (decades long) time frames. So, simply by not changing from formative views, a person moves to the right and since left-right political party divides constantly shift to represent the median voter, this can cause that person to shift to a new political party at the margins.
    – ohwilleke
    Aug 20, 2020 at 0:22

I think the results of this poll show party affiliations by age in the US pretty well. Specifically, the graph below shows how individuals identify with political parties based on their age. In fact, both major parties appear to be better represented by older folks. The largest shift is away from independent to both of the major parties.

Party Identification by Age

These survey results show that while some individuals do move from one of the two major parties to the other, there are a large group of staunch party members who do not.


For me personally: I changed party affiliation as I aged. This is because I experienced the "opportunity" to live under a government of the party that I had previously supported. Sadly IMHO both major US parties have since gone a bit crazy, so I have become unenrolled (belong to neither party), but always vote for the most acceptable candidate.

I believe that the recent Trump election in the US was caused by many voters who feel (probably entirely correctly) that neither traditional party cares about them at all, and who therefore had not been voting until someone came along who at least acknowledged that they exist. I think that the great majority of these voters have changed party affiliation as they aged.

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    The Q is more about available statistics rather than polling the SE Politics crowd.
    – agc
    Mar 7, 2017 at 16:15
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    The question is about what is the usual situation in the United States. For example is Churchill's quip accurate. The question is,is the usual stereotype true. Mar 7, 2017 at 20:00

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