The results at the Republican Iowa caucuses on Tuesday were striking for the age breakdown of the vote.
In the 40-49 age group, the largest bloc – 25 percent – voted for Rick Santorum. So did the largest bloc of the 50-64 age group – 27 percent of them. Of those 65 and older, 33 percent voted for Mitt Romney followed by 20 percent for Rick Santorum.
In contrast, the largest blocs of the three youngest age groups, 17-39, voted for Ron Paul in percentages of 50 (youngest), 45 and 34 percent. The graph of these votes, from CNN, is too large for this blog space, but you can see it here for a clearer picture of what I'm saying.
It's not like there were any liberals or progressives on the Republic Iowa menu, but young voters chose the candidate with at least a few leftish positions while the old people went for the the most extreme right winger – Rick Santorum wants government to control women's vaginas, for god's sake. You don't get much more conservative than that.
Although President Barack Obama won the electoral votes in the 2008 election (365 to John McCain's 173), there was still a lot of red on the map:
Now take a look at a screengrab of another 2008 electoral college map. This shows what it would have looked like if only voters age 18 to 29 are counted:
As it turns out, what David Pakman, a young radio/tv/internet show host, was discussing on that show is whether or not people become more conservative as they get older. Here is the pertinent passage from the show:
Of course, Pakman is correct. If gay marriage, Social Security, Medicare, etc. are the norm when you are first becoming aware of the world around you, they are less likely be seen as extreme later in your life. The researchers Mr. Pakman references in that clip
”...analyzed data from the U.S. General Social Surveys of 46,510 Americans between 1972 and 2004...[and] assessed attitudes on politics, economics, race, gender, religion and sexuality issues.”
Their work indicates the reverse of the elder, conservative stereotype:
"'It's just not true," says Nicholas Danigelis. 'More people are changing in a liberal direction than in a conservative direction.'”
Danigelis believes that some of the explanation for the belief that elders grow more conservative over time is the ageist misperception that old people are rigid, ornery and set in their ways. Further,
”People might find an average 60-year-old to be more conservative than an average 30-year-old, Danigelis said, but beware of extrapolating a trend. The older person, for example, might have started off even more conservative than he or she is now.”
You can read more about this study here.
Sixty percent of the voters in the Iowa caucuses were, according to CNN, age 60 and older and it is significant that those for whom abortion was the most important issue, 58 percent voted for Rick Santorum.
Of those self-identified as “very conservative,” 35 percent voted for Santorum. Of the 17 percent who self-identified as “moderate or liberal,” only 8 percent voted for Santorum; 40 percent voted for Ron Paul.
In the 2008 presidential election, elders 65 and older were the only age group to support John McCain (53 percent) over Barack Obama (45 percent) and they (we) often turn up in large numbers on the conservative side of political polls.
So what I'd like to discuss today is the question in the headline: Are you more conservative or more liberal, do you think, that when you were younger?
And why, do you think, polls and vote counts almost always show elders to be more conservative than younger people?
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Marilyn Hartzell: My Story