Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Generational Voting

There is a fair amount of political science research on how generations have different political views.  Some of the most influential arguments have come from Ronald Inglehart. In his book Culture Shift he argued that generations' political views are shaped not only by the current political and economic conditions but by the conditions they grew up with.  Playing fast and loose with his work, this suggests that if you grew up during the depression you'll be more likely to be concerned about economic security and stability for the rest of your life.  On the flip side, if you grow up in times of economic security, you'll be more likely to be concerned with non-economic issues like the environment or peace or cultural values issues like abortion or marriage.  

There are some generational issues at play in the US election now.  Baby Boomers have dominated American politics for decades.  The Clintons, GW Bush and politicians of their generation are all Boomers.  They grew up in the economically flush 50s and early 60s and theirs is the politics of Culture War.  From the perspective of my Generation, Boomers have really messed up priorities.  Who cares about who gets married, when and how if you can't get a job!?

Some of the people on this blog are in Generation X (sometimes called the "Baby Bust" generation) - well, I am at least.  It depends where you put the cutoff years.  We grew up in the recession years of the 70s and 80s.  Our childhood and high school memories are of stagflation followed by the Reagan era economic adjustments and deindustrialization of the Rust Belt and high unemployment.  We were thrilled to hear Bill Clinton say "It's the economy, stupid!"  We tend to be fed up easily with cultural issues and have long since resigned ourselves to the fact that the Boomers will spend all the social security money before we get to retire.  Unfortunately there aren't very many of us.  So we'll never get to run the country.  Instead, we'll spend our lives being pushed around by self absorbed Baby Boomers and their spoiled children (see below).

But these days, all the attention is going to two different generational groups:  Generation Jones and the Millennials (or Generation Y or the Boomer Echo).  Generation Jones is a kind of transition generation between the Boomers and Gen X.  Obama is from this group.  They were born too late to get wrapped up in the Vietnam and counter culture stuff of the 60s.  They were in college during the worst of the late 70s and early 80s recession.  They don't have the baggage of the Boomers or the jaded cynicism of Gen Xers.  

The Millennials are the children of the Boomers and Generation Jones and some of the more precocious Gen Xers (Of course Gen Xers would call early parenthood reckless).  This generation is much larger than the Gen X group.  They grew up in the Clinton and Bush years. They're entire lives have been spent in the midst of a record setting economic boom.   They are more socially progressive than their parents were (the whole Hippie thing was always exaggerated) and they're more concerned about the environment than the economy obsessed Gen Xers.  But the current economic troubles are a rude shock to them.  It will be interesting to see how they react.  

Here is a youtube mini documentary about Generation Jones (about 5 minutes).  Here is a more political ad directed at the Millennials.  

One thing that is coming out of this election is that if Obama wins (and it looks like he will) it will mark the end (or at least the beginning of the end) of Boomer domination of this country.  And that is a good thing!


The Law Talking Guy said...

These generational theories are always too unspecified (what's a "generation" and how is it defined?) to have much scientific validity. However, they pose an interesting question that could be the subject of scientific efforts. Linguists say that children get their language from their peers, not their parents. Most parents don't realize this, but it's true. Is it possible that political ideas also come from peers rather than parents? If so, it would tend to validate the idea of generations having joint group experiences that form common ideas and a common language for expressing them.

On the other hand, we know that the best predictor of a person's political party affiliation is... wait for it... their parent's. So I'm not sure.

Raised By Republicans said...

Yeah, I'm a little skeptical of cultural theories myself as you know, LTG. You're right that definitions and operationalization of key variables is always a huge problem for any cultural (or generational) based argument. What I like about Inglehart's work is that he's trying to link culture to economic foundations. I wouldn't be the farm on anything about this stuff but I do think it's interesting enough to have a more or less informed conversation about.

As for parents' influence, I can't think of anything that is more predictive of a child's economic environment than their parents' economic status. Parents' economic status will also determine the peers that end up teaching the child how to speak the language and all the "cultural" stuff like generational identity etc.

Finally, Ingelhart wasn't saying that "this generation will be left of center and this one will be right of center." Rather he was saying that some generations will be more concerned with debates about cultural values and others with the economic issues. For example, to say that Gen Xers are more likely to emphasize economic issues is not to say that they will be all on the left or the right. It just says that they are more likely to see that issue dimension as the key to political debates. The same goes for Boomers and their culture wars. Their generational emphasis on non-economic issues fuel both sides of the Culture Wars.

What this means is that as McCain-Palin focus on the Culture War issues, they are really trying to get their older voters (the conservative Boomers) to turn out. The problem is that they'll also alienate a sizable chunk of the Boomer generation and they'll make fiscally conservative Gen Xers roll their eyes and complain about how the GOP has lost touch with its core economic message.

Anonymous said...

This discussion is something that is of interest to me as I have read off and on about generational shifts and trends and mentioned them in several comments.

While it isn't terribly scientific, marketers have used generational trends for years to target products and ideas. They have a generally accepted age cut off. But you could argue that those on either side of the line are in some sort of generational gray area. I had never heard of the the Jones group until now. And now marketers are targeting specific groups within those generations.

I once read that everything is on a cycle that runs 3-4 generations. The first generation builds. The second maintains. The third enjoys then wastes it all . My host dad in France made this observation about wealth in his country when looking at the elite.

I have blogged before that I have hope about Generation Y. They are much more exposed to the world, its suffering as well as its victories. They have come of age in war. And not all of them came from rich families. I really think that ones economic status, as RBR, points out determines a lot. But I also think this is a generation uncomfortable with wealth. They are socially concerned and see community service not only as something good for everyone, but as career starters for them. And many of them are scaling back their expectations as they now look to smaller, less elite universities. But I also think this will be a generation that will disappoint their parents. They may not stay in school, opting to drop out and do other things. This is a group that I think is much more willing to follow its bliss in life. My boyfriend told me the other day not to underestimate the distaste for boredom that this generation has. This comes from a man with a 19 year old who failed her first semester in state school after he had paid $20K+ to out her through 12 years of private school. Her friends, he tells me, all come from wealthy families and they all seem to aspire for poverty and grunge. I scares him.

Then I look at my 16 year old niece who had much more modest circumstances and who has her feet very well grounded and her goals set.

Then there was me, born to boomers, raised by WWII generation and with vaules that feel sometimes like they come from 1940 instead of 1991.
A lot of this depends on where in the society you are and how you were raised. Being part of a generation isn't the sum total.

USWest said...

that last post was me.