We’ve now had a week to review the mid-term elections and study exit polling and the results. The size and scope of the Republican victory was impressive. From state legislatures and governorships to Congress, the victory was wide spread and found in some surprising places like Illinois, Maryland and here in deep blue Massachusetts. A closer look at the exit polling shows, as expected, midterm elections bring out an older electorate compared to the Presidential years.
The way people voted for the House of Representatives is a good proxy for a nationwide vote. The two largest voting groups were Boomers 50-64, comprising 33% of the total and 65+ (22% of total voters) Boomers favored Republicans over Democrats 52% to 46%, and the margin was greater for 65+ (57% to 41%). None of this is very surprising as it tracks to 2010 and the past history of midterm elections. And, it is usually tough-going for the party of the President in his sixth year. The Republicans were smoked in 2006 as Bush’s popularity nose-dived.
Looking deeper into the exit polling, we see some real worry and dissatisfaction, a full six years past the financial collapse of 2008. The findings charted below were not split out by age group for public consumption, but with the 50+ cohort representing 55% of the voters, you can assume they are somewhat representative and perhaps driving the numbers.
Condition of Nation’s Economy
Not good 48%
Worried About Future of U.S. Economy?
Not too 18%
Not at all 4%
Gotten better 29%
Gotten worse 25%
Direction of the Country
Most Important Issue Facing Country?
Health care 25%
Illegal immigration 14%
Foreign policy 13%
Contrast these negative findings with last Friday’s news that job growth continues to move in a positive direction while the stock market hits a new record high. What’s going on? We can conclude that Boomers appear to be dissatisfied with the overall economic situation in the U.S.
To dig deeper, according to a study by the Federal Reserve Board (2013 Survey of Consumer Finances), Boomers (50-69) have a median net worth of $143,000. That total would have been 2.5 times higher if not for the market crash of 2008. While the Dow has recovered and at record, the lost time and bad timing for Boomers has caused a permanent dent in their finances. The study projects that average Boomer net worth would have been $370,000 if stocks continued on their pace from the ‘90s and early 2000s. While jobs are being created again, net income is not increasing. People feel like they are falling behind.
Additionally, anyone who has tried to find a new job over the age of 50 can tell you the market is tough; and it is always easier for companies to find someone who is younger, cheaper and with updated skills. Today’s younger Boomers are likely the first wave of workers who are dependent on their own savings and 401(k) accounts rather than a company pension. The loss of investment value during the recession has delayed and changed retirement plans. For some, it may never become a reality.
Add in a few more facts — the exit poll tells us that nearly half of voters say the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) went too far and has caused doubt and uncertainty among Boomers. Healthcare is the second biggest concern among voters after the economy and certainly contributed the feeling that the country is off track.
Marketers need to understand this context and be mindful of these attitudes and realities when focusing messaging, advertising and content marketing at Boomers.
While the recent election tells us Boomers may not be happy with the economy, they still hold 70% of the wealth in the U.S. and spend on average $2.9 trillion a year. It’s a bit of a conundrum for marketers. Messages around safety and security may work better than talking about extravagance. Small pleasures may resonate better with Boomers than big-ticket items. Practicality vs. luxury may also be better received. As always, tone and voice are important, as is authenticity at a time when Boomers are taking a hard look at their finances and future. The days of ads portraying retirement to be a non-stop party are over for a while, maybe forever.