By Amie Parnes - 03/09/16 06:00 AM EST
Senior citizens are driving Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonBiden: Trump knows nothing about foreign policy Dem sen: Clinton 'focus and prepared to keep us safe' Pelosi: Clinton struggling with white men because of 'guns,' 'gays' and 'God' MORE to the Democratic presidential nomination.
Throughout the party’s primaries, Clinton has regularly won the votes of people over 65 by double-digit margins, even in states that she has lost to Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersTrump: NY Times pushing Dem narrative that Russia working for me What does poll showing Sanders supporters backing Clinton really mean? Hillary Clinton needs to start embracing progressives MORE (I-Vt.).
The support from seniors has helped her make up for losses to Sanders among people under 30. That demographic — including a surprising number of young women — has come out in droves for the Vermont Independent.
While Clinton has pledged in recent weeks to make inroads with young voters, much of her focus as been on capturing and locking down the older set.
She rolled out a plan to stop Alzheimer’s disease, and the campaign has broadcast countless ads on the need to lower prescription drug prices. She also has blasted Republicans for attempting to gut Social Security and Medicare.
“I care a lot about making sure everyone gets a fair benefit, but I’m really concerned about what’s happening to older women,” Clinton said earlier this year while stumping in Iowa.
While Clinton will want to make up ground with millennials in the general election, outsiders argue her strategy of targeting seniors has been a smart one in first stages of the race.
“Seniors vote at about three times the rate of young people, so courting seniors is the electoral equivalent of hunting where the ducks are,” said Cal Jillson, a professor of political science at Southern Methodist University.
“This seems like one of those strategic calculations that a smart campaign would make, because that’s the highest turnout group in the electorate,” Jillson added. “Seniors turn out in large numbers, and Clinton’s been around the track a few times and gets that.”
A Clinton campaign aide added that the Democratic front-runner is “proud of the support she has across age groups, especially the trust her agenda has from seniors.”
“There’s no question she’s working hard to earn their support,” the aide added.
The support from seniors eluded President Obama in his 2008 and 2012 campaigns.
In 2008, Obama won 45 percent of the voters 65 years old and over, compared to 53 percent for Republican nominee John McCainJohn McCainTim Kaine backs call to boost funding for Israeli missile defense Booker: 'I love you, Donald Trump' Syria activists cheer Kaine pick MORE.
It was the only age group that Obama lost in the election, according to Cornell University’s Roper Center for Public Opinion Research. Seniors made up 16 percent of the electorate.
In 2012, Democrats tried to cut into Republican nominee Mitt Romney’s advantage by highlighting the positions of his running mate, Rep. Paul RyanPaul RyanHave Republicans hit rock bottom on voting rights yet? Biden should have been the clear choice for vice president Trump, Clinton intelligence briefings likely to start next week MORE (R-Wis.), who is now the House Speaker. As the House Budget Committee Chairman, Ryan backed blueprints that Democrats argued would lead to cuts to Medicare.
It didn’t work. Seniors ended up backing the Romney-Ryan ticket with 56 percent of the vote, compared to 44 percent for Obama. Seniors were again 16 percent of the electorate.
Jillson argued that Clinton might have a better chance of winning over seniors in the general election that Obama.
“In 2008, there was a great deal of excitement around young people and a candidate who was young and energetic and different, but all of those things struck 50- and 60-year-olds — whites in particular — as something that needed to be puzzled over,” Jillson said.
With Clinton, Jillson said, “many of these same people have a different reaction.”
Older African-Americans are a particular source of strength for Clinton.
Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons said that while he once detected some reluctance among some African-American supporters, that seems to have long faded. And now, “a major part of Hillary’s coalition is with older African-American voters, and they have an excellent turnout record,” added Katherine Jellison, a professor of women’s history at Ohio University. “You can take that group of voters to the bank.”
Jellison added that older African-Americans feel as though they have a long-term relationship with the Clintons.
When Bill ClintonBill ClintonDem sales job on Hillary Clinton moves into high gear Bill Clinton glosses over the ‘90s Clinton breaks 'glass ceiling' MORE won the White House in 1992, senior citizens supported him by a 17-point margin.
Clinton, however, also won support from young voters, a demographic his wife has yet to capture in her 2016 campaign.
For now, observers say Hillary Clinton seems resigned to move ahead and capture the nomination without millennials.
“She is willing to move ahead without them as long as she is winning, with the assumption that most will come to her in the general election,” Jillson said.
“I’m sure she’s surprised to not have more of the youth vote, particularly with younger women,” Jillson said. “But you’ve got to do what you’re good at and what you’re comfortable with.”