Boomer Politics: Medicare And Retirement?

by , Oct 30, 2012, 6:42 AM
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So much has been written lately on the Boomer vote and how it is driven by the Medicare debate and the generation’s desire to protect their retirement. This oversimplified sound bite doesn’t represent the policy challenges facing every county, city, and state as the population ages. 

Over half of people old enough to vote are over the age of 45 -- a first in our history. With more than 100 million mature adults, we know the nature of politics is shifting. But no one can really predict how. 

Pinning them down

 “The senior vote is something of a myth,” says Frederick Lynch, author of One Nation Under AARP: The Fight Over Medicare, Social Security, And America’s Future. “It breaks apart by education, class, ethnicity and family structure. And among pre-seniors, you’ve got elite Boomers who got good degrees, bought into globalization and were able to adjust to a changing economy, versus the white working class, which is mostly Boomers who have been completely dislocated by cheap immigrant labor and their jobs sent overseas. In numbers, the senior and pre-senior bloc is a sleeping giant, but the question is will it awaken and mobilize?”

You would think that the over-analyzed Boomer demographic would be easier to pin down. Leading Boomers came of age with Kennedy and Johnson; the trailing Boomers with Reagan. It should be simple.

But a study last year by the Pew Research Center observed that Boomers -- until the 1980s -- wanted nothing to do with the Republican Party. And then something changed. Focus groups have shed some light. Though Boomers overall claim a certain idealism that is the headline for the generation, their voting behavior and beliefs are far more complicated. 

Boomers at the higher end of the socio-economic spectrum report that their standard of living is better under Republican administrations, citing taxes as their biggest concern. Middle-income Boomers have the highest propensity to be independent voters and choose people over platforms; they report being caught in the middle financially and under-valued by candidates. They are also most likely to report being caregivers for elderly loved ones. Lower-income Boomers and seniors believe in the Democratic platform and programs. 

Regardless of economic status, Boomers report that the ideals they embrace are frequently in conflict with the reason they vote. They frequently cite their standard of living, their children and grandchildren, and their aging parents as influences on their vote and platform choices. Adding more complication, when segmented by leading Boomers and trailing Boomers, the Pew study found that older Boomers have tended to vote more Democratic than younger Boomers. 

In the end, their vote is not a party choice. It is not demographic. It is no longer about ideals from their teenage years. It is about the gritty details of daily life, who can improve life on a daily basis (money in their paycheck), and who will make it better for their extended family. Like the generation itself, the decision is complex.

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