The Generation Gap: The Real Story in the Midterm Elections

7 years ago
This article was written by a member of the SheKnows Community. It has not been edited, vetted or reviewed by our editorial staff, and any opinions expressed herein are the writer’s own.

The gains Republicans made among women voters has been one of the main storylines of the 2010 midterm elections. Despite these gains, the gender gap has persisted and according to the Center for American Women in Politics: “was at least as evident in 2010, a year of substantial Republican gains, as it was in 2008, a year when Democrats were elected in large numbers.”

So the gender gap persists, but pales in significance when compared with the generation gap.

U.S. President Barack Obama greets moderator Sway Calloway while participating in a Town Hall on Viacom  s BET, CMT and MTV networks October 14, 2010 in Washington, DC. Obama appeared before approximately 250 young people representing a broad cross-section of backgrounds and answered questions from the studio audience as well as from viewers submitting questions via Twitter.  UPI/Win McNamee/POOL Photo via Newscom

According to the New York Times analysis of exit polls:

The generational divide exposed in the 2008 election was more pronounced. Voters under 30 were the only age group to support Democrats but made up just 11 percent of the electorate, typical for a midterm election. By contrast, voters aged 60 and older represented 34 percent of voters, their highest proportion in exit polls since 1982.”

The numbers are striking:

In 2010 57% of men and 51% of women voted for the Republicans.

Among voters 60 and older 56% of women and 60% of men voted for the Republicans.

Among voters between 18 and 29, 39% of women and 44% of men voted for the Republicans.

If young voters had voted in proportions similar to older votes, we would be looking at a very different electoral map.

For liberals/ progressives these figures give reason to hope. A segment of the electorate (largely white and over 60 and associated with the "Tea Party") is unsettled by the country’s changing demographics and can’t accept the election of an African-American president, the cultural diversity of 21st century America, and the increasing acceptance of same-sex marriage.

The Tea Party claims that this is all about reining in big government. Considering that these very same people did not protest the huge deficits of the Bush administration, I can’t believe that all this anger is just about the deficit. The Tea Party may have cleaned up the overt racism in many of the signs brandished in their 2009 rallies, but their “take back our country” rhetoric has an ugly racially charged subtext.

This segment of the electorate will ultimately lose. From Tim Wise’s widely circulated article “The Last Gasp of Aging White Power: But Time Is Not on Your Side:”

I know , you think you’ve taken “your country back” with this election — and of course you have always thought it was yours for the taking, cuz that’s what we white folks are bred to believe, that it’s ours, and how dare anyone else say otherwise — but you are wrong.

You have won a small battle in a larger war the meaning of which you do not remotely understand.

‘Cuz there is nothing even slightly original about you.

There have always been those who wanted to take the country back.

There were those who, in past years, wanted to take the country back to a time of enslavement and indentured servitude.

But they lost.
There were those who wanted to take us back to a time when children could be made to work in mines and factories, when workers had no legal rights to speak of, when the skies in every major city were heavy with industrial soot that would gather on sidewalks and windowsills like volcanic ash.

But they lost.

There were those who wanted to take us back to a time when women could not vote, or attend any but a few colleges, or get loans in their own names, or start their own businesses.

But they lost.

There were those who wanted to take us back to a time when blacks “had no rights that the white man was bound to respect” – this being the official opinion of the Supreme Court before those awful days of judicial activism, now decried by the likes of you – and when people of color could legally be kept from voting solely because of race, or holding certain jobs, or living in certain neighborhoods, or run out of other towns altogether when the sun would go down, or be strung up from trees.

But they lost.And you will lose.

Wise’s article at times has an ageist tone which I find a little hard to take--after all I’m in that demographic he can’t wait to get rid of--but his analysis is correct. The country is changing dramatically; at some point the political system will reflect the politics and demographics of the new majority.

The changes are happening much more rapidly than I ever thought possible. Like so many in my age cohort, I never thought I would see the election of an African-American president, the high point of my political life. 

Accelerating this time table will depend on persuading young people it's in their interest to vote. President Obama certainly delivered on some of his promises which would directly impact young voters. Young people can stay on their parents' health care plan until the age of 26 and the revamping of the student loan program has led to significant savings for students and their families.

But it appears that many young people do not see the connection between these policies and voting in mid-term elections. There’s no magic bullet here, but I think making it easier to vote has got to be part of the solution. In my state, Pennsylvania, voters must register 30 days prior to the election, there is no early voting, and the process for getting an absentee ballot is very cumbersome.

Young voters, who are often juggling school, jobs and family responsibilities often find squeezing in time to get home to vote a real challenge. Older voters, who are in many cases retired, have a relatively easy time getting out to the neighborhood polling pace. This system of voting in one’s neighborhood may have made sense when most people worked close to home, but it’s clearly creating hard ships for many working people now.

We also need more young, vibrant candidates who will appeal to young voters and give them a reason to go to the polls.

So there’s a lot of work to do, but the change is coming. The question is how soon.

Karen Bojar

In response to BlogHer’s request for an update, there have been quite a few studies of racism within the Tea Party which have been highly regarded by independent analysts. The gold standard is the NAACP study which I reference in my comments.

Journalists have been documenting this for some time -— e.g. the Newsweek report, “Are Tea Partiers Racist?
A New Study Shows That the Movement's Supporters Are More Likely to Be Racially Resentful." From the Newsweek article:

A new survey by the University of Washington Institute for the Study of Ethnicity, Race & Sexuality offers fresh insight into the racial attitudes of Tea Party sympathizers. "The data suggests that people who are Tea Party supporters have a higher probability" — 25 percent, to be exact — "of being racially resentful than those who are not Tea Party supporters," says Christopher Parker, who directed the study. "The Tea Party is not just about politics and size of government. The data suggests it may also be about race."

Please read the NAACP report, especially the section “Tea Parties -- Racism, Anti-Semitism and the Militia Impulse.” From the NAACP report:

Tea Party leaders have promoted and provided a platform to known racists and anti-Semites on multiple occasions. Dale Robertson, the chairman of the 1776 who displayed the infamous “n****r sign,” for example, brought Martin “Red” Beckman on as a guest to the Tea Party Radio hour that he co-hosts with Washington state talk show host Dr. Laurie Roth. Beckman has been known for over twenty-five years for his anti-Semitic writings and his defense of militias. In 1994, Beckman was evicted from his property in Montana by the IRS for refusing to pay taxes. He now resides in southwestern Washington State.

So to say there is a strand within the Tea Party which harbors racist attitudes does have independent support. More on this later.

Regarding Tea Party demographics, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll:

The 18 percent of Americans who identify themselves as Tea Party supporters tend to be Republican, white, male, married and older than 45.

Regarding Tea Party attitudes toward same-sex marriage, according to Michael Jones at GayRights.Change.Org:

We know the Tea Party hates taxes, health care reform, and immigrants. Turns out you can add gay marriage to the list as well.
According to the New York Times and CBS, only about 16 percent of Tea Party activists support same-sex marriage, with a whopping 40 percent saying gays and lesbians should not have the right to marry. That number would certainly match the sentiment of many Tea Party rallies earlier this year.
That also gels well with an article on the Michigan Messenger this week that documented "Straight Pride" T-shirts at a Lansing, Michigan Tea Party rally

My original post was not about the Tea Party per se but about generational divides on social issues. This is clearly the case with same sex marriage where support is strongest among young voters. From a recently released CNN poll:

a majority of young people back gay marriage, their survey found - 52 percent of 18-29 year-olds are in favor, while another 23 percent support civil unions...
The Public Religion Research Institute revealed its findings as it unveiled new information from its 2010 American Values Survey, a telephone poll of 3,013 American adults conducted from September 1-14.
Initial findings from the survey came out last week, and suggested that the Tea Party and the Christian conservative movement have more in common than the conventional wisdom thought.

More on this later.

BlogHer is nonpartisan but our bloggers aren't! See our full coverage of the 2010 midterm elections.

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