Center for American Progress

RELEASE: 2020 States of Change Report Finds Generational Transformation Will Be Critical to America’s Electoral Future
Press Release

RELEASE: 2020 States of Change Report Finds Generational Transformation Will Be Critical to America’s Electoral Future

Washington, D.C. — The generational makeup of the United States will change dramatically in the future, a shift that will have potentially profound effects in future elections, according to a new States of Change report published today by demographic experts from the Center for American Progress, the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC), the Brookings Institution, and the Democracy Fund’s Voter Study Group. For six years in a row, CAP, Brookings, BPC, and other organizations have collaborated on States of Change, a project that documents and analyzes the challenges to democracy posed by the rapid demographic evolution of the United States from the 1970s to 2060.

This year’s States of Change report explores how demographic changes could shape the next five presidential elections using national and state projections. The authors looked at race, age, education, gender, and generation, using a new set of projections for the nation and all 50 states plus the District of Columbia, based on census data. They focused on what those projections imply for the presidential elections between 2020 and 2036 under different assumptions about future turnout and voter preference patterns by these demographics, with a particularly close look at generational change.

“In our report, we calculated the potentially game-changing effects of generational change in the electorate,” says Ruy Teixeira, senior fellow at CAP and co-author of the analysis. “Generational change—working in tandem with other underlying changes by race and education—has the potential to create much stronger headwinds for future GOP candidates than we have found in our previous research.”

The report investigated several scenarios to see how the electoral future might be shaped by different assumptions about the role of generation. The key findings are from two simulations: One where there are no generational effects on the future electorate and one where full generational effects are carried forward.

  • The no generational effects simulation, which assumes the turnout and voter preference patterns of 2016 but the race and education distributions that will correspond to future elections, finds the Republican presidential candidate losing Michigan and Pennsylvania in 2020 but just barely taking Wisconsin, resulting in a dead heat of 269-269 in the Electoral College.
  • But going out further in this simulation, Florida and Wisconsin are added to the Democratic column by 2024; Georgia and North Carolina by 2028; and Arizona by 2032. Although it doesn’t flip, a Republican candidate would win Texas by less than 1 point in 2036 under these assumptions. Thus, even in a scenario where generational preferences do not count, the electoral college quickly becomes more difficult terrain for a Republican candidate.
  • While the no generational effects simulation anticipates that the Democratic win margin in the national popular vote would shift modestly from 2.1 points in 2016 to 3.5 points in 2020, the simulation with full generational effects forecasts a 5.7-point margin in 2020. Going out further, the Democratic margin increases every election cycle by about 3 points, resulting in an 18.3-point margin by 2036.
  • In a full generational effects simulation, the report finds that a Democratic candidate in 2020 would win 319-219 in the Electoral College by flipping not only Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin—the states that President Donald Trump won so narrowly in 2016—but also Florida and Arizona.
  • Going out further, Georgia and North Carolina are added to the Democratic column by 2024 (making the electoral vote split 350-188); Ohio and Texas by 2028 (408-130); Iowa in 2032 (414-124); and the previously red state of Alaska in 2036 (417-121).

None of the estimates presented in the report are predictions in the conventional sense, but they are suggestive of the kinds of advantages and disadvantages parties might face in the not too distant future. For Democrats, they indicate that their ability to shore up and hold onto America’s youngest cohorts may well pay substantial dividends, adding to their potential advantage from other demographic changes. For Republicans, they suggest that any plan for future success almost certainly must include capturing a higher percentage of voters from America’s youngest generations.

Thus, while demographics are not destiny, it is fair to say that demographic, especially generational, change is likely to have profound effects on the competition between the parties in this decade and beyond. The report cannot forecast which party will best handle these changes, only that they will have to do so.

Read “America’s Electoral Future: The Coming Generational Transformation,” by Robert Griffin, William H. Frey, and Ruy Teixeira.

For more information or to speak with an expert, please contact Claudia Montecinos at [email protected].