There’s something going on with seniors: It is now strikingly clear that they have turned sharply against the GOP. This is apparent in seniors’ party affiliation and vote intention, in their views on the Republican Party and its leaders, and in their surprising positions on jobs, health care, retirement security, investment economics, and the other big issues that will likely define the 2014 midterm elections…
(I think there’s evidence that the Republicans are seeing these numbers too, even if some of their vocal constituents are arguing with them.) The question is why the change? Everyone knows that seniors are a bunch of rightwingers who hate every kind of progress right?
Well, “seniors” change characteristics all the time. Obviously, this is because the older cohort is always dying off and younger people turn into seniors. Every single day. And there is a huge group of “younger” people becoming seniors right now. They are called baby boomers and they have a very different set of beliefs, experiences and political affiliations than those who are dying out.
Now, it’s wrong to assume that boomers are liberals simply because they had a very showy counter-culture in their youths. In fact, there was always a boatload of boomers who were conservative even then. But no matter what, these particular seniors are not their grandparents or parents and never have been. They have lived very different lives and have a whole different set of expectations and experience.
It’s a big mistake for anyone, especially in politics, to simply assume they are a bunch of doddering old white people who are living in the 50s. Neither is it realistic to assume they are modern conservatives. They came up before the Reagan revolution after all. Unlike those of the older cohort who were raised in the depression this is a group that has always had a lot of expectations from government and a belief that it had a responsibility to fulfill them. Even if they hated the usual dark colored suspects, they weren’t raised in a world in which all those feelings had been subsumed in Atwateresque dogwhistles about Big Gummint. And they’ve never needed government more than they do now. I think a great many of them will end up back into the Democratic fold — where seniors have historically been.
I don’t know how much these new numbers are a reflection of that. But the vanguard of the baby boom has been entering the category of Senior Citizen since 2007. And like I said, there are a lot of them. I’d be very surprised if they aren’t t least partly responsible for this change in senior attitudes. And there’s no doubt in my mind that boomers are going to change this cohort in many different ways over the next few decades just as they changed everything else in their (our) lives.
If the GOP is assuming this very active and politically aware demographic is a carbon copy of their own parents that would be a big mistake. They are a very different animal. And these are people, for better or worse, who have always been engaged and are going to be even more so in their elder years. What else have they got to do?