Thursday, October 18, 2012

Old Old Senate Update

I don't think I've said anything about this one since Tommy Thompson (71) won the GOP primary in Wisconsin. It's time for an update. Recall the basics here: Congress has been getting older and older for some time now, although there was a bit of a reversal in the current Congress from record highs. So how are things looking for the next Congress?

It looks as if the next Senate will be almost exactly as old as the current Senate.

I'm going to look at incumbent compared with most likely replacement, and I'm going to use Nate Silver's current estimates. Why? Because it's easy! But note that his program is hardly infallible; it's just a quick way to see what's going on. Ages are for January 2013.

So: leaving the Senate are Lieberman (70), Akaka (88), Bingaman (69), Conrad (64), Webb (66), Kohl (77), Snowe (65), Kyl (70), Ben Nelson (71), Hutchison (69), and Lugar (80). Also losing currently are Tester (56) and Brown (53).

Taking their places? Murphy (38), Hirono (65), Heinrich (41), Berg (53), Kaine (54), Baldwin (50), King (68), Flake (50), Fischer (61), Cruz (42), Donnelly (57), Rehberg (56), and Warren (63).

The outgoing Senators, including the two running, have an average age of 69.1; the incoming favorites average just 53.7. Wait a second...the new group is exactly 200 net years younger than the old group! How does that happen? For what it's worth...the only other turnover was Dean Heller, who is two years younger than John Ensign. So given that everyone else gets two years older (including the retiring or defeated Senators)...the next Senate would be almost identical in age in January 2013 to what the old Senate was in January 2011.

What are the key races? I count five contests thought to be reasonably close now and with an age gap over more than six years (younger candidate first):

There's a 21 year gap between Baldwin (84% likely to win via 538) and Thompson.
A 26 year gap between Murphy (74%) and McMahon.
A 10 year gap between Brown and Warren (82%).
A 13 year gap between Flake (62%) and Carmona.
A 9 year gap between Heller (71%) and Berkeley.

As much as I don't think that Tommy Thompson is a very strong candidate, I think that 84% for Tammy Baldwin is silly-high. But at any rate, it's Wisconsin and Connecticut that are going to determine how old the next Senate are, basically, at this point. By the way, overall younger candidates are doing quite well in the contested races. Whether that's an omen for the presidential election or not, I couldn't say.


  1. 84% seems about right. Tammy's leading in almost all the polls and the one where Tommy leads only has him up one point on her. Obama is probably going to win the state, and Tommy is not having the kinds of news cycles he needs to close the gap. We just spent the last week talking about how racist his son is, after all.

  2. Is Baldwin somehow not running ads showing Thompson tell a Tea Party gathering in June - 'I am the man to do away with Medicare and Medicaid'?

    Put that clip in heavy rotation the last two weeks of the campaign.

  3. But holding steady at 61.2 would actually represent the continuance of a significant downshift that started in 2011.

    This WSJ interactive chart

    shows that over the 30 years from '79 to '09, the average age of the Senate skyrocketed by a full decade, from 53.25 years old to 63.2.

    In 2011, however, there was a full year's pullback, to 62.25 (they measure mid-term, so that's the same as your 61.2 starting from Jan. 2011).

    In 2014, we can probably expect Lautenberg to retire (age), perhaps Johnson (health), and maybe even Warner (boredom). I doubt any GOPers will step down in 2014, but in 2016, Coburn and DeMint are gone, and I bet Grassley and McCain are question marks. I would hope Inouye is too (he'll be 92!), although he's already declared, and he does have a chance to eclipse Byrd as the longest-serving Senator in history.

    So I think the 2009 cycle was the high-water mark, and we're going to head down in age, perhaps even at a faster clip than the rise of the past few decades.

    1. Could be, but I'm skeptical. Sure, we'll get retirements, but don't be so sure those will change anything, not in an era where many Senate candidates are in their 60s. Or their 70s.

    2. I didn’t mean that the retirements themselves would do the trick. They’d have to be paired consistently with younger freshmen. But that is happening this cycle, and I think there’s a good chance it will continue.

      Take my examples: if all of the Senators I list were to retire in Jan. 2015--avg. age 75.25--and be replaced with freshmen averaging 65 years old, then the total age of the Senate would come down by .82 years. Not bad.

      But if they were replaced with freshmen averaging 55 years old (a couple years older than in both ’11 and ’13), the Senate would get 1.62 years younger.

      That rate of *decrease* is significantly higher than the average biannual rate of *increase* from 79 to 09, which was .66 years.

      And with another 18 Senators in their 70s right now, I think the odds are good for a slow but steady greening of the Senate.

    3. I think your math is off. You only have three retiring next cycle (Lautenberg, Johnson, Warner). If that's at 75.25 above, and you're using 2015 age, then replacing them with three 55 year olds would save 60 years...but the Senate will have aged 200 years, so you'll still need to find another 140 years just to break even. If you're talking about the 2014 and 2016 cycles, then you need to make up 400 years of aging.

      Basically, if they average 55 coming in, there's no way to keep the average age below 60. The big thing isn't retirements; it's getting more incoming Senators in their 30s and 40s.

    4. Sorry for the confusion. Just for the sake of argument I imagined that all of the 8 Senators I mentioned stepped down at once, in Jan. 2015: Lautenberg, Johnson, Warner, Coburn, DeMint, Grassley, McCain and Inouye. I accounted for their increased age by Jan. 2015, and for the added years of the Senate as a whole.

    5. Ah, okay, I misunderstood. But isn't that a bit of a cheat? You'll have no oldsters remaining to retire in 2016 since you pre-retired that group in 2014, so the Senate would get a whole bunch older in the following year.

      At any rate: again, with an incoming new Senator average in the 50s, you're going to have an old, old, Senate, regardless of anything else.

    6. yeah you're right: of the current 20 Senators who took office in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, 16 of them did so between the ages of 34 and 47. They along with others who entered young and have since lost, died, or retired fueled the large drop in Senate age during the 70s.

      But I still don't think the inexorable fact that the Senate ages 200 years every cycle is an overwhelming controlling factor. If it were I think we would have seen this graying earlier in the 20th century. I think three other factors have contributed to the current graying: increased life expectancy, higher average age of retirement, and increased party pressure to remain in office. I do think you've discussed these in previous Old Senate posts. Are they kosher as parts of the problem?

  4. I have a lot of faith in Nate Silver's presidential stuff, but I don't think the Senate has been an object of nearly enough thought and focus from him.

    1. I think his poll-of-polls averages are excellent. I think there's a mismatch between the expressed chances of winning and our intuitive feel for what those chances should mean (not just for him; it's something about the nature of these kind of forecasts, I think).


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