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The generation gap plays the most significant role in voter preference since 1972 in the upcoming presidential run. Younger people voted substantially more Democratic in each election since 2004; older voters cast more ballots for Republican candidates in each election since 2006.
If Gen X and Millennial voters turn out in significant numbers for the 2012 election, President Obama should retake office.
Millennial voters are inclined to back President Barack Obama by a wide margin in a potential matchup against former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. Silent generation voters tend to stand solidly behind Romney.
Baby Boomers and Gen X voters are the most anxious about the uncertain economic times. These generations tend to be on the fence about voting Obama in for a second term.
The generation gap demonstrates distinct opinions across a number of issues. These deep differences are reflected in how members of each generation describe their political views.
A full 46% of Silents identify themselves as conservatives, while just 16% express themselves as liberals. The percentage of conservative Silents has increased by six points from 2002: the number of self-described liberals has remained largely unchanged.
Surprisingly, there is also an increase in conservatives among Boomers and Gen X. In both groups, the percentage of self-described conservatives has increased since 2000: from 35% to 42% among Boomers, and from 30% to 36% among Gen X.
The Millennials are the only generation where liberal and conservative views are about equal—26% versus 30%, respectively. Self-reported ideology among Millennials changed little in recent years.
The Greatest generation—those who voted for FDR—is dwindling in numbers; but, until recently, their Democratic tendencies were still evident.
Voters who turned 18 during the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt consistently voted more Democratic than average. [It is important to note that the voting age was not decreased to 18 from 21 until Amendment XXVI was passed in July 1971.]
The following graph reflects the relative partisan voting patterns of individuals who reached the age of 18 during the presidential terms of the past 13 presidents.
The label after the president’s names shows the current age of the individuals who turned 18 during the specified presidential terms. Each bar indicates how much more Democratic or Republican that group voted compared with the average vote for each election.
Younger members of Gen X and the Millennials who turned 18 during the presidencies of Clinton, Bush, or Obama typically vote much more Democratic than the average. In contrast, voters who turned 18 during the Ford, Carter, Reagan, and Bush Sr. presidencies—which include older Gen X and younger Baby Boomers—voted somewhat more Republican than the average.
The picture is less clear for older Boomers. Those who turned 18 during the Nixon administration skew more Democratic than average in their voting. Those who came of age during the Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson years – mostly members of the Silent generation and the very oldest of the Baby Boomers –have tended to be more Republican than the average, especially in 2008.
At the same time, the polling identifies potential fissures at both ends of the age spectrum that may affect these patterns. Older Republican-oriented voters, unlike younger people, rate Social Security as a top voting issue. While they favor the GOP on most issues, this is not the case for Social Security.
Younger Democratic-leaning voters continue to support Obama at much higher levels than do older generations. But Obama’s job ratings have fallen steeply among this group, as well as among older generations, since early 2009. Perhaps more ominously for Obama, Millennials are much less engaged in politics than they were at this stage in the 2008 campaign.
As voters look toward the 2012 general election, the generational differences that came to the surface in recent election cycles appear just as strong. Among all registered voters nationwide, Romney, who has run strongest against Obama in many polls, and the president are tied: 48% say they would back each at this point.
Millennial voters—ages 18 to 30—favor Obama by a 61% to 37% margin. Silent voters—ages 66 to 83—favor Romney by 54% to 41%. The 20-point gap in support for Obama (61% among Millennials versus 41% among Silents) is almost identical to the 21-point generation gap in the 2008 National Election Pool exit polls, when two-thirds of younger voters backed Obama, compared with 45% of those older.
Obama’s support slipped by similar margins across all generations compared to the 2008 election. This erosion has particular implications for balance of support among the two middle-aged generations. Generation X voters—currently 31 to 46—voted for Obama over McCain by 52% to 46% in 2008. Currently, those in this age group are split evenly—47% Obama, 48% Romney. Individuals who are 45-65-year-olds today split their vote evenly in 2008: today, Romney holds a six-point edge among the Boomers.
Mad Mike’s America thanks Pew Research.
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