Toad Spots: A Minor Affliction of Old Age
Making Peace with Death - A Contest For You

Are You More Conservative or More Liberal Than When You Were Younger?

category_bug_politics.gif 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


I was liberal as a young voter and so I remain. Knee-jerk liberal, even, and darn proud of it.

Like Olga, always been liberal and have proudly remained so. Yet, on the liberalness has taken on many new hues. Not a shifting further left or right, but just a broadening of the guidelines of what constitutes liberal.

I think my Dad told me once that he heard if you weren't liberal when you were young you were heartless, and if you weren't conservative when you were old you were a fool. He was liberal until he broke his hip while having a heart attack, sat down and started watching Fox news. Two of the MANY important lessons he taught me were, if what other people do doesn't affect you then it's not your business, and don't watch Fox news. He and my Mom raised a whole pack of liberals.

I come from a family of union workers. I was the first in my family to graduate from college. When I whined to my Irish grandmother about being a Democrat when all my grade school pals were Republicans, she told me to read the gospel of Matthew. I have been an avowed Democrat my whole life. The people I know who vote Republican do not like gays ans blacks, immigrants or people they feel are getting something for nothing. A friend told me some people did not pay taxes and she was for an across the board tax for all. I asked her if this included her son who is on disability.When I see what the Republicans want to do with Social Security and Medicare, I cannot understand how seniors could vote Republican. It amazes me that the conservatives want government out of our lives but want to control the bodies of half the citizens.
We have our work cut out for us to keep right wing conservatives out of Congress and the White House.

I came from an ultra conservative, anti Roosevelt family. I morphed into a commie pinko rat, and I continue to find my left thinking works for me. I just don't march or make signs any can call me politically apathetic.

I broke with a moderate Republican family very early in life and remain frankly left. What I have become over the years is more pragmatic, not less liberal. For example, I am currently working with lots of nice Catholics who don't share my views on women's autonomy or gay marriage (tho I wonder what they really think when they get away from their hierarchy) but like me they care about ending death sentences. It's broadening for all of us. I like that!

I think I am as liberal as when I was younger, and that was pretty liberal. That said, I have to say that my history of working in social services (and having raised three sons) has resulted in my being more concerned about personal accountability now than when I was younger. I'm a bit surprised at the high percentage of the 17-24 year olds going libertarian. But I suspect that's due mainly to the connection between libertarians and leniency towards drug law enforcement. I have mixed feelings about that, but have to say that if I were in that age group today, and all else was the same, I might well be using recreational drugs on a regular basis, too. I think that would be the lesser of two evils (between drinking and a drug such as pot).

I don't think my political views have changed much from the first time I voted until today. I think possibly with Iowa, it's Paul's desire to legalize drugs that makes him popular with youth. It's about all I can think other than maybe no wars overseas where they'd have to fight them. With the elderly they probably also vote their own issues, things that they feel will help them. Although some say that when people get old, they come back to religion and that might explain Santorum. Right now the whole thing is depressing to me.

I think it would be pretty near impossible to grow up in the south as I did and not start out conservative--my community at large had a take care of your own, pull yourself up by the bootstraps mentality--but as my world expanded, it was apparent to me that not everyone started out on the same level of playing field. I think expanding your world and field of vision can only make you more liberal, as I am today. I'm all for people being at liberty to live their own lives as they wish and never be coerced by religion or government to think a certain way. Thanks for asking.

This was another great thought-provoking post, and it provoked me into another thought after reading the link for more details of the study. I think it would be very interesting if you could recruit someone to present the "cranky old man" (conservative) political views during the next few months leading up to the election, and you could do a counterpoint in the persona of crabby old lady (liberal). If you could video some live discussion it would be even better. It might end up something like the old SNL bits where Jane Curtin played Shana Alexander and Dan Ackroyd represented James Kilpatrick (he wouldn't have to call you an ignorant slut though). We could use some good political humor over the next few months. What do you think?

My family were Republicans in the mold of Lincoln (2 great grandfathers fought in the Civil War) so they were really liberal in their attitudes.

To answer your question, Ronni, I was always a liberal, but am more so now because I understand the political issues better.

My son married a liberal and was influenced by his upbringing and his wife. In middle age he became an avid hunter and joined a gun club. A lot of the members are returning veterans from the Afghanistan and Iraq war and are extreme right wing Tea Party types. He became influenced by them and started watching Fox news and (to my sorrow) is now very conservative . Maybe that says more about my son than about demographics.

My point is, that the influence of our close friends and family is often more responsible for our attitudes than age.

Most elders I know are conservative and I am the odd man out. But that only means that I live in a conservative neighborhood. If I took a poll in my complex I would have to say that 90% of elders are conservative, but that poll would be meaningless for an entire generation.

It would have been harder to go any further towards the traditional 'left' than I was at 25, when I thought communism was the answer to everything. It was simple black and white for me in those days. But over time, my politics took on a new, third color - green. So for me it's been exactly as Lilalia said "Not a shifting further left or right, but just a broadening of the guidelines of what constitutes liberal." I've always been politically radical but now I take a radical position on a whole lot of issues that I wasn't even aware of at 25, like gay marriage, abortion, animal rights and making ecocide a crime.

I've been called a raving liberal most of my life and I doubt I will ever change. In fact my Senior yearbook has an inscription from my American Gov't teacher that reads: "To a good liberal" -- he went on to become a leader in the Native American movement after he got fired from our district.

I'm proud of to be a liberal. I've already signed on to help re-elect Obama even though he's disappointed me in some ways.

And yes, Jan, there are plenty of us renegade Catholics who support gay marriage and women's autonomy.

At age 25 I was marching through Atlanta with Dr. King, and later marched with the women (and men) in Washington to support the ERA ... and at age 75 I am marching and carrying a big sign for Occupy America !!

And to my happy surprise, there were a great many Elders marching with me here in Southern California! It was edifying to see so many turn out and march! And when we started comparing notes, we soon discovered that the majority of us had marched and carried big signs all over the US in the 1960s too. It was like a long-delayed family reunion and just loads of fun to see and experience.

Much more liberal now than I was when I was a kid and didn't really understand the rich spectrum of political possibilities. I know more people who grew more liberal -- even radical -- with age, than more conservative. Maybe the seed was always there? In 1961, when I was 17, I joined the second or third wave of Freedom Riders. Today, my heart is with OWS, but my body isn't able to join in.

Growing up in a fairly conservative family, I considered myself a moderate Republican when I was young. I even worked for my republican senator from Minnesota (moved to the DC area in 1982 and remained ever since.)

When I got to DC and really involved in politics I realized that the issues I cared about most were (gasp) democratic ones! I've since turned a 180 and am now a bleeding heart liberal. Though living in Takoma Park, Maryland (considered the Berkeley of the East), I would probably be considered quite moderate.

I grew up in a staunch Republican family in upstate NY. But the party in NY - back then - would be considered ultraliberal, now. I always had a liberal bent and it was sealed at Cornell and after marrying a staunch Democrat. My whole family, still in upstate NY, is now on the liberal side, mainly voting with the Democratic party.

My Dad was an FDR Democrat who was also the World's greatest Catholic.That is how I grew up.

I married into a strictly conservative republican Protestant family who voted for the likes of Dewey,Willkie, and Nixon because they owned 9 shares of Bell Telephone stock and didn't want to share their dividends with the low life Democrats who were always on welfare.

Needless to say, when we married, we formed our own ideas and found out we were much happier giving a little kid a breakfast at school
and a young single mom a hand with her rent and child care.
We became liberal Democrats and have supported that party through thick and thin over the years.

As they always say:

"Democrats fall in love;republicans fall in line."

P.S. I have stopped capitalizing republican because they refuse to say Democratic and usually use the term Democrat and they know it irks us. So, when they stop annoying me I will again capitalize the name of their party.

The older I get, the more liberal I become. I think it's a reflection of a growing realization that other people share the world with me and are worthy of the same benefits I am. I grow more accepting of others and more concerned for the rights of others as I age.

It seems that Ronnie's readers are mostly liberal. I grew up in a liberal family, became more liberal in the 60s and am still a knee-jerk liberal at age 80.

It shouldn't surprise you that most of your loyal readers identify themselves as liberal. But your question was about whether we have gotten more conservative or liberal as we have aged. I started out liberal and stayed that way. A lot of people say extreme conservatism is selfish. I think it is more a lack of imagination.

I've always been liberal minded and even more so as I age.

I once considered myself an independent--meaning I voted for the candidate I thought best represented me wherever I was living at the time. However, as Republicans have gotten more right wing and more interested in destroying government. I have become more liberal.
Incidentally, Ronnie the Pakman quote below the picture doesn't show for me.

I think people become more conservative as they get older (if they do become more conservative) because they have few assets when they're young & haven't yet developed any awareness of the cost of being liberal. As they get older & start to amass some assets, they start to resent taxes taking any of that away from them. It's a variation of the non-zero sum mentality: if I am forced to give to you, then I have less, & I don't like that. They don't see that they pay in other ways, and pay way more than they would have been taxed.

If you are speaking of the word "liberal" in general terms, then I would have to say that from a moral and/or traditional standpoint I have probably become a little more liberal with age. For example, when I was young 'abstinence' was the holy grail of conservatism when it came to pre-marital sex. Later in life pre-marital sex for me simply became part of the dating scene in general. Never could come to terms with living with someone out of wedlock however. I have to smile a bit even now as I write this because of how very hypocritical that must be.

To the contrary however, politically speaking, I would have to say I am less liberal given the definition of the two terms as viewed in the political sense.

From a purely political standpoint I am an Independent and a centrist and have almost always been so. I am always open to discussion and willing to hear the other person's reasoning behind their positions. If I can recognize some measure of value in either a liberal or convervative viewpoint, I am more than willing to move in that direction.

I don't find the liberal - conservative labels that useful anymore. For example, unions started out liberal. Now they have a lot of conservative elements to them. The universal health mandate ... it started out as a Republican idea; now the Republicans hate it and the Dems. have adopted it. Go figure. I am not a liberal, not a conservative. I think for myself.

I've always been liberal, was a little sorry to miss the radicalism of the '60s and '70s -- not because I was too young or old but because I was living the mommy life. Nowadays I am mentally radical but being quiet about it in a generally liberal community.

I was a liberal in college and have become radicalized as I see the human and animal and ecological destruction of republican politicians and corporate businesses. Loved reading the comments & thank God(dess) for Ronni and her truth-telling website!

My folks were apolitical for the most part, though during my pre-college years they tended to vote Democrat simply because they were Roosevelt Democrats and that carried over.

But my liberalism stemmed from my Catholic upbringing. The treatment by blacks in the South didn't gel with what we were taught and women being treated like second class citizens never quite matched up with my image of what Jesus represented in the gospels.

By the time time I got into college it was the early 70's and the social issues that reflected the compassion and tolerance my religion taught came together and confirmed me as a lifelong liberal

I sm s registered Iowa Democrat who is also an evangelical Christian. As soon as someone learns I am a Democrat they rush to judgment that I'm "an evil pro-abortionist". Abortion isn't a primary issue with me either way, although I personally don't agree with it, I won't try to take away someone else's right. I am more interested in the people who are already living; those who need decent opportunities, health care, food, etc. and no more preemptive wars. During the Vietnam war I tied black armbands on my children before they went to school every day. I was a delegate to the state convention pledged to Eugene McCarthy. But do I think I am more conservative at 74 than I was in my twenties? Yes, if it is based on the bent of the current Democratic party. Sometimes I think I am totally out of sync with it. I always pay close attention to all candidates with the intention of choosing the candidate I most agree with, but in the end, I hold my nose and pull the lever for the democrat.

Rick Santorum can keeps his politics out of my vagina! I started liberal and have only grown more so over the years. To have Santorum declare that "diversity causes division" gives me chills. This is a man who is intent on wiping out those who don't fit his mold of "us". As someone born an AMerican who has lived in Canada for 45 years I can say that diversity does NOT breed division. Canadian society is not only very diverse it encourages the celebration of one's roots and heritage. And our murder rate is about 2% of the American rate, which suggests that it is not diversity which breeds division but POLITICS.

Like so many of you, I grew up in a staunch Republican family, although in retrospect I think my Mom leaned more to the left than she ever let on (in those days, "father knew best", right?). I was even fairly religious in those days, too. However, during my first year of college, I broke with religion, never to return, and the Republican Party as well. I've been a progressive (liberal) ever since and still am. My brother has remained a dyed-in-the-wool conservative. We can't even conduct a civil discussion about politics over the phone.

I am SO disgusted with far right wing Repubs and sometimes even with the Dems, too. I think in 2012 it will be a choice between the lesser of two evils but there can be no doubt about which is the greatest evil! The Repubs want nothing less than to destroy every program that has ever helped anyone while making the ultra-rich richer. I think more of them secretly agree with former candidate Cain than we know. You'll recall that he's the one who said, "If you're not rich, it's your own fault!

Reading here, I find I most closely identify with some of what was written by Nancy, by sightings, and the final paragraph written by Alan G.

I have always described myself as an Independent (with leanings generally to the Democratic side of things), refusing to be swayed by either party's rhetoric. I would say I am possibly a bit more conservative today, due more I suspect to my total disenchantment with the majority of our "public servants." Merriam-Webster defines a centrist as one who would reform a program, not abolish it totally. Ergo, with the fervent belief that our government needs some serious reform, I am undoubtedly a centrist.

My parents were Democrats & fairly liberal. I had some liberal views & some conservative ones until my mid-20s (which was the mid-1960s) when I became decidedly left-wing. The only thing that's changed since then is that I've become less idealistic & more pragmatic.

I grew up in a pure Republican family - "if you needed something, you worked and paid for it!"

By the time I reached HSchool the disparity between those who could and could not achieve became apparent to me. The more left-leaning I became. Finally after graduate school my ideology was for a progressive and a more liberal society.

By the time I entered into the corporate world I had been indoctrinated into a more conservative world, "unions bad, free market good (as long as we had the monopoly!).

Now that age has settled in, I and seniors have, in general, a more left-sided agenda. "Social Security, Medicare, public libraries, police protection, and many social services are a good thing, having to pay anymore out of my pocket a bad thing!".

I really don't believe there are more than a few among us that believe seniors need to move back to conservatism.

Just me . .

My parents were republicans, but not particularly concerned with politics. My first political memory was Dewey's loss to Truman in 1948. I assume my parents were among those who expected him to win.

I and a friend whose family were yellow-dog Democrats joined a Young Republican group after we graduated from university and moved away from home to begin our lives as adults - our membership afforded a way to meet people in a new place, men kind of people, mainly.

The civil rights movement made its mark on my political preferences. I voted for JFK and remained a moderate Democrat until 1994 when I became a dyed in the wool Liberal. The republicans were so disgusting during the two Clinton terms (and are even more disgusting today) that there was really no choice at that point. The more the political parties move to the right, the more liberal I become.

I'm actually probably more of a centrist when it comes to fiscal matters and a progressive on social issues. I'd like to see America regain its triple-A credit rating and bring down its debt, and I believe that President Obama is working to achieve those things. What I cannot reconcile about today's ultra-conservatives is how far right they lean, how hypocritical they are and how utterly unwilling they are to recognize any other viewpoints.

How can they be for "small government" yet want government to control women's bodies and reproductive functions? How can they be for small government and yet want government to dictate who can get married and who can't? How can the oh-so-righteous evangelical branch of the GOP, whose members claim to have been "saved" and/or "born
again" be so totally un-Christlike when it comes to helping their fellow humans? Extramarital dalliance seems to occur with some regularity among these folks, yet they don't hesitate to sit in judgment of everyone else. I must admit--I don't get how they think! Or maybe it's that thinking would interfere with ideological purity. Isn't that the problem with radical Islamists?

I love this post and all the lively discussion it prompted. I grew up in Chicago, a city corrupted by union thugs and political bosses. I saw the ugly side of political parties early and never knew any Republicans until I went to college. I once worked for Adlai Stevenson Jr.'s campaign and was devastated when he lost.

Having lived in Washington,DC most of my adult life, I can't abide either party. I'm fiercely independent and select the candidates I vote for on an individual basis. It takes a more time and effort, but it satisfies my desire to make the most responsible selection I can.

This is a fascinating topic and the commentary is riveting. I have thought about this a lot since I have met so many liberals (half-baked liberals, as it turns out) turned conservatives who have told me over and over again that I too would turn more conservative the older I got. Almost like a threat. Though I think actually some of them felt guilty for turning right and wanted assurance that "everyone" turns conservative ultimately.

Well, all I can say is that my lifestyle is certainly more conservative--but not my political views. Not a whit. I don't think the two are incompatible. I simply don't have the interest or curiosity (and haven't had for years) anymore to smoke anything illegal. And I'm not interested in going to rock concerts anymore--the crowds and noise ALWAYS bothered me, even when young. And I don't have a freewheeling sex life like in my early years. But politically, my views were formed by things my Depression era Democrat parents believed--things that made a huge impression on me and seemed good, and true. And they still do. And my parents actually had pretty conservative views about social issues, too. But by that I just mean they were appalled by free love, drugs, and flag burning by hippies. They just kept saying the antics of hippies would just hand the election right over to Tricky Dick. And in a way they were right. But they never budged from their belief that FDR was a godsend, and that Republicans were at heart very heartless. My parents got work thanks to the WPA. Later, they were simultaneously opposed to taking food stamps or welfare for themselves at a time they could have been eligible, but absolutely thought others should have the benefits. It was kind of a belief that they should be able to pull themselves up by their boostraps, but a belief also that not everyone else can. And I'm like that too. They taught me that partaking of the government's safety net wasn't a "handout"; it was just people helping people.

I used to be much more hopeful about third parties, but I no longer am at all.

I do think what Darlene said here seems to be the case:

"influence of our close friends and family is often more responsible for our attitudes than age."

I have seen more people who claimed to be independent tilted left move decidedly right and people on the right moderate move far far right BECAUSE OF FOX NEWS, DRUDGE, and THOSE RIGHT-WING FORWARDS. (See that young man's online archive for a collection of all of those stupid right-wing forwards that circulate via e-mails. If you Google "my right wing dad," you will see what I mean. I have literally had a couple of relatives turn into very angry people because in their golden years they sit around and listen to the blowhards on Fox tell them how angry they should be about the so-called War on Christmas and all related crap. They have become Foxified. And the anger gets intensified when they sit down and forward all the crud from the right wing echo chamber (most of which is debunked by Snopes). I've seen this happen to younger people too. It's a steady diet of that Fox "News" idiocy that has made a lot of people conservative. That's my impression.

The older I get the more unattractive, uncivil, and unintelligent the right is. So I can't imagine for a second suddenly turning more conservative just because I'm old.

What bothers me most about Republicans is their absolute refusal to compromise. That's totally undemocratic and un-American.

I've always been liberal and today at 87, even more so.

Charlotte Dahl

Born liberal Democrat. Dad was county chairman of the local Democratic party. Mom was active in Democratic party affairs too. I campaigned for Stevenson , JFK and Obama but now I'm still liberal (as much as ever) but I no longer claim any party affiliation. My political philosophy could be summarised as follows "Throw the bums out-". All of the carpet baggers who have made a career in congress, living off the fat of the land while one out of five Americans is living in poverty.
I feellike Demosthenes with his lamp looking for an honest man-in vain.
/s/ "Liberal and thoroughly dissillusioned "

I'm quite sure I've become more liberal through the decades. I don't necessarily use those liberal vs conservative terms in the classic political context each group argues about with each other.

I grew up hearing lively debates with parents who cancelled each others' votes. When I got older and lived some life, I became a Democrat and have kept getting more liberal and less religious.

I have read that people become more conservative as they age, but I was liberal then and continue in my stance, firmly liberal, progressive, and proud of it.

I have family members that have "crossed over" but they won't talk to me about it. I wish we could have honest true dialog in this country. Seriously.

Sorry to be arriving late to this very interesting thread. I'd have to say I'm both more aware of all things political, and more liberal or progressive or whatever the PC label is these days.

Back in the 60s, when I was in college, I had an instinctive negative reaction to the Vietnam War, the draft, LBJ, etc., which kind of made me apolitical, or even anti-political for a long time. It made me not real happy about living in this country. I was lucky to get a high lottery number in the Draft Lottery, so I didn't have to make a decision about going to Canada or not. (My parents, especially my mother, would have disowned me had I done that.)

In the late 70s I got more interested and active in peace and environmental issues. And in the 80s I began to learn a lot about the labor movement from my wife, who was (and is) an ardent union supporter. She helped make me into a semi-news junkie, which has only made me more liberal/progressive or even radical. I think we need some kind of socialist system--not that it will ever happen in this country.

So at least now I have a much better-informed reason for my beliefs than I did several decades ago. To give you some idea of where I am now, a couple of my favorite political figures these days are Bernie Sanders and Michel Moore. I wouldn't have paid them much attention back in the 60s.

I grew up in a staunchly Republican family and my first presidential vote was for Barry Goldwater. Being staunchly pro-choice, however, I became increasingly unhappy with the GOP through the '80s and '90s and finally changed my registration to Dem. in 2000. That lasted about 6 years. I've been unaffiliated since and am generally a moderate.

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