November 8, 2010 1 Comment
The development of last week’s most recent midterms that I find most interesting is that profound new impact of the generation gap on American politics. Young voters have always been much less reliable in Midterm elections than older voters, but that did not affect the partisan balance of things until quite recently. As has been well-documented, young people went hugely for Obama in 2008, but just didn’t show up at the polls this time around. At the same time, older Americans have increasingly become among the most conservative portion of the electorate. Interestingly, this really got under way in 2004. Here’s a selection from a great NYT chart that looks at demographics over every national election since 1982.
What you can see (if you squint and get close to your screen) is that there’s basically no difference between under 30 and over 60 Americans in any election (excepting an interestingly anomalous 1996) until you get to 2004. Then the gap emerges and increases over the subsequent two elections. I truly think we are looking at very notable development that will shape American politics for a good time to come.
As for the title of this post, what got me thinking about it today, was Jon Cohn’s nice column pointing out just how much Republicans totally pander to older Americans, even when it is 180 degrees opposite the rest of their proclaimed ideology.
They’ve [Republicans] also been attacking the health overhaul for what it will do to Medicare. And instead of accusing Democrats of trying to dump more money into a government program, as Republicans would typically do, they’ve attacked Democrats for doing the very opposite–noting that the Affordable Care Act will reduce spending on Medicare somewhere around $400 billion over the next ten years. Apparently government-run health care is awful, except, um, when it isn’t.
To be fair, the Republican argument makes perfect sense if you think like a campaign operative. Senior citizens are, at the moment, the most conservative age group in the electorate. They were least likely to support President Obama in 2008 and, during the health care fight, were most likely to oppose enactment. Republicans seized on that fact and have gleefully proclaimed themselves champions of Medicare, despite a long history of opposing it and, as Newt Gingrich once put it, letting this universal social insurance program “wither on the vine.” Seniors are playing along, since they figure reform means taking money once targeted for Medicare and diverting it to help people under-65 pay for their medical care.
Sadly, we can expect pandering to older Americans (and their narrow political interests) only to increase.
UPDATE: Just after posting, I saw that Kevin Drum ran this (much easier to read) graphic: