Politics and the Farmers Market
This Week in Elder News: 30 August 2008

Some Elder Polling

category_bug_gayandgray.gif [EDITORIAL NOTE: Gay and Gray is a monthly column at Time Goes By written by Jan Adams in which she thinks out loud for us on issues of aging lesbians and gay men. Jan also writes on many topics at her own blog, Happening-Here.

I'm both a political junkie and an elections professional (I train community groups to increase participation), so I actually enjoy poring over polling date. In this post, I'm going to look at some of the polling about elders in the upcoming election and particularly at polling on state Proposition 8, a measure that that would add language to the state constitution to eliminate same-sex couples’ right to marry in California.

Some basics I keep in mind when looking at the data:

  • Different pollsters define older people differently in their surveys. The most common definition seems to be voters 65 and up. Those of us between 60 and 65, who TGB also names "elders," disappear statistically in the huge mass of voters 50-64.
  • Voters in the over-65 age group are only a little over 19 percent of registered voters according to a Pew Research Convention Backgrounder. We're often told we're a huge chunk of the electorate, and we are, but not as huge as we might have been led to think.
  • The reason elders are thought to be such a large segment is that fully 79 percent of us were registered and 70 percent of those actually voted in 2004; that's higher than the electorate at large in both categories. Maybe we have just hung around long enough to get more involved?

Much has been made this year of how attractive to Senator Obama is to young people. And polls bear that out; the Democrat was winning young voters by 60 - 33 percent in August.

At the same time, there is some evidence that Obama has a much harder time with older voters. Recently some 16 percent of voters over 65 reported being undecided.

"Seniors are about 50 percent more likely than other voters to be uncommitted at this point in the race. Voters aged 65+ will eventually represent about 20 percent of the electorate, but they may represent more like 30 percent of the pool of persuadables."

That explains why the candidates may pay a lot of attention to elders. Senator Obama's selection of Joe Biden as his running mate was supposed to assist in bringing us into his fold.

Here in California, age also seems to be a big factor in whether people will vote for or against the constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. The Field Poll, considered the gold standard for the Golden State, found on July 18 that if the election were being held then, more voters said they would vote No (51 percent) on Prop. 8 than would vote Yes (42 percent).

Democrats overwhelmingly will vote No - and we have a substantial plurality of Democrats.

"By age, opposition to Prop. 8 is greatest among younger voters under age 30, as well as among baby boomers in the 50 - 64 age bracket. Voters in other age groups are more evenly divided."

Though in this poll all groups would reject Prop. 8 at least narrowly, voters over 65 came closest to approving it, showing a 45/46 split.

It seems pretty clear that the variable that decides whether people can support same-sex marriage is their own experience with gay people. According to a Los Angeles Times survey

"The divide was...stark when it came to the proposed constitutional amendment: 70 percent of voters who said they did not know a gay person would vote for it, a position taken by just 49 percent of voters who said they knew a gay person."

So there it is - the daily lives of gay people are new and strange to some folks and a matter of ordinary experience to others. Exposure to gay people seems to determine attitudes. The "Love Rush," the spate of same sex marriages in California since May, is probably having its own effect, showing happy people whose unions don't cause the sky to fall.

Not surprisingly, unfamiliarity with gay people is greatest among elder voters. Gay people used to keep their personal lives secret. (I should point out that the notion of gay marriage is a very new thing among older gays too; we certainly didn't grow up expecting such acceptance would ever be possible!)

One of the most interesting arguments I ran across while researching how age influenced attitudes toward Prop. 8 was an article by Peter Levine refuting the notion that as we get older, we automatically get more conservative. His argument is statistical and not simple (go take a look if you like math), but his conclusions suggests that elders aren't out of sync with the rest of society:

"With the possible exception of those born in the 1930s (for whom we don't have much data), it appears that people grow more tolerant as they age...It's my sense that there may be a small age effect here: people become more tolerant of gays as they mature and get to know openly gay people...However, the biggest effect here is historical. Everyone is becoming more tolerant, regardless of age."

Anyone wishing to know more about the No on Prop. 8 campaign can check out Equality for All.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lois Cochran tells us what she has learned about Working From Home - The Telecommuter Challenge.]


As a person who has spent most of my life in the arts, I have known many, many gay and lesbian people. I rejoice with them that they finally are able to marry, at least in some states. I will be long gone before the issue even comes up for a vote in Georgia!

And contrary to popular opinion, most of the elders I know have become more tolerant and accepting of differences between people as they have grown older. Is it a case of old dogs learning new tricks, or just getting better at the ones they do know?

This doesn't really surprise me. I think we mellow out a lot as we grow older and can't be bothered with prejudice of any stripe. Prejudice is hard work -- it takes a lot of energy to hate - and there are so many more productive ways to use one's energy.

Thanks, Jan, for reminding me how much my diverse friends have added to my life! I would have been so much poorer intellectually and emotionally without them.

It's disappointing to learn of fellow Americans who would stoop to peddling lies to support their position. Google "Six Consequences if Proposition 8 Fails" ... these are six totally false talking points that the "Yes on 8" campaign is trying to use to fire up their target voters. Anyone who bothers to study the issue will quickly learn that these six "consequences" are total fabrications and sad examples of ugly fearmongering from the "Yes on 8" campaign. Shame.

It would seem to me that for those of us who are even marginally rational thinkers, and capable of even the most rudimentary, basic and fundamental understanding of how our choices impact both ourselves and those around us - and potentially have even longer-reaching effects - this presidential election leaves us with only one choice, really. We may not LOVE Barack (or maybe we do; we all have our own opinions, obviously) but he is the ONLY candidate that offers even a glimmer of hope that the American condition can improve. McCain gives us old people a bad name, you know? And I, for one, am pretty tired of living modestly so that we can foot the bill for all those multi-millionaires who keep getting tax breaks at our expense. Beyond all of that, I want also to comment on this whole gay marriage thing. Why do we - as human beings - feel the need to control the hearts and minds of everyone else? Don't we have enough trouble figuring out our OWN place in life - how WE believe that WE ought to live, or can feel decent about living? How DARE we try to legislate what other human beings should feel for each other, and whether or not those feelings - and their commitment - should or shouldn't be legal? Oh, give me a break! I come from years and years in the field of human services, and have done a lot of consulting work for women's shelter programs. 99 and 9/10's % of women in those shelters were there because of abusive relationships with - you guessed it - men! So much for one man - one woman marriage, in my humble opinion. My own first husband was an abusive narcissist. Good riddance to him! I'm not suggesting that every gay and lesbian relationship has been forged in heaven - gay and lesbian folks are only human, after all - I can only tell you what I've observed in some 30+ years in the field. And that observation is that, whatever your chosen lifestyle, you're the one who has to live it, so why not "live and let live", as my dad was fond of saying. I'm going to shut up, now because I can feel myself leading up to a discussion of war and separateness and power and corruption, and who knows where I'll go from there? As always, Ronni, a very timely and important discussion on your blog today. I'm addicted.

As an 83 year old I can tell you that it has been my observation that old prejudices die hard.

I was lucky enough to be raised to judge people by their character; therefore, I never had any prejudice against anyone who had a different sexual orientation than I did. Most of my elder acquaintances are lacking in prejudice also, but those radical religious people my age cling to their biases like they are permanently glued on. They are completely unable to see that their prejudice is exactly in the same league as the Taliban.

ALL very interesting, folks! Another connection to consider is that people of any age who are dualistic thinkers, i.e., things are sharply divided into right/wrong, black/white, male/female, etc. have a harder time seeing reality in the ways many of us who are more "soft-edged" feel, that there are grey areas in life, and (who the hell) are we to think we have a corner on reality or how it yin-yangs??

My field, that fo intercultural communication, studies and practices tryhint to see things purposefully from the perspectvie of the other, and understanding our own vision filters, fixed beliefs and values, and how our cultures create those. We have a term, "silo cultures" (sorry I don't have the reference at my fingertips just now) for those cultures which are more rigid, like a grain silo, rather than permeable or flexible.

While I understand and believe in my perspective, we should strive to at least understand where our 'others' or other communicants who feel differently than we do perceive and act in their cultures.

The thing is, we're all members of many different cultural distinctions. I can be a member of female culture, finding resonance wiht others of the female persuasion worldwide, or I might be seeing things through the eyes of a female, Caucasian West Coast rural elder with a handicap, born to lifelong Republicans. (However, your truly is actually a roaring progressive Democrat.)

Think how we are indeed colored by our experiences, the perceptions which shape or distort or clarify "reality" as we know it.

Then the wonder is often that we can communicate well at all with those much different than ourselves! Yet we know that from science to society, things are often better with diverse inputs, and solutions or perspetives are best informed by a wide variety of possible information.

I am a blogger active more in the fiberarts/art web community. In this community awards get passed around. The I Love Your Blog came my way recently and I would like to pass it on to your blog for it's ever entertaining, challenging and thought provoking disucssions. It seems a little frivolous here, but yours is one of the blogs I read daily and is one I miss when away from the Internet. There are many people, mostly women, 55+ who are active in the textiles community and I wanted to introduce you to them, too. Details are on my blog http://moonsilk-stitches.blogspot.com/

Some in our culture seem unable to accept those who are different in any way. Others of us value the differences in people. There are so many reasons why intolerance and discrimination occurs. I think the best way in which to eliminate it is for individuals in varying groups to know each other.

I hardly think the subject raised here is "a little frivolous" as one reader comments. I would not like to see matters important to this elder group marginalized, especially since such an attitude may have been a contributing factor leading to behaviors that caused a much younger friend of mine to prematurely leave this life.

I find the demographic analysis and information quite interesting, especially considering the marriage rights issue that will be on our California ballot this fall. I've been following the development of both pro and con activity on this ballot issue here in my home state. I would anticipate this subject will continue to receive more attention in other states in our country in the future.

I'm one of those people "...born in the 1930s (for whom we don't have much data." I believe I've always been tolerant and appreciative of differences in individuals partly based on values taught me by my mother. Aging hasn't hardened my views. Perhaps similar tolerance on many issues is characteristic of my age group.

I find the demographic analysis and information quite interesting, especially considering the marriage rights issue that will be on our California ballot this fall. I've been following the development of both pro and con activity on this ballot issue here in my home state. I would anticipate this subject will continue to receive more attention in other states in our country in the future.

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