Boomer’s Influence on Politics Coming to an End? And Will the Younger Gens go the Other Way?

Posted On November 2, 2016

Millennials have made their voices heard in this year’s contentious presidential election, mostly through the vociferous support for Democratic primary candidate Bernie Sanders – a phenomenon I explored in a blog back in May.

After Sanders fell in the primary to Hillary Clinton, their level of support for the Democratic nominee may play a role in whether she or Republican Donald Trump wins the presidency. Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank recently cited polls showing Trump leading slightly among Baby Boomers while trailing among Gen-Xers and millennials.

Milbank offered the opinion that Baby Boomers’ preference for the combative Trump is proof of the “debacle” of their governance of the country, and blamed the generation for the uber-polarization of today’s national political landscape.

“Boomers, coddled in their youth, grew up selfish and unyielding,” Milbank writes. “When they got power, they created polarization and gridlock on both sides.”

That sounds a bit harsh. One might rightly question how “coddled” Boomers were as youngsters – haven’t they told us how they had to walk five miles to school every day, uphill, both ways? It seems natural that the older generation would be the one that’s most entrenched and adamant in its beliefs – set in its ways, if you will – and Boomers certainly aren’t the only generation to blame for the state of American politics.

While many Boomers have embraced Trump’s populist rhetoric, the poisonous nature of today’s politics can be attributed as much to the increased vehemence of talk radio and the rise of extremist bloggers on the internet as anything else. Both these developments can be attributed as much, if not more, to Gen X than Boomers.

But if one still sees a kernel of truth in Milbank’s condemnation, there is this to consider: The Baby Boomers’ influence on politics is waning.

Richard Fry of the Pew Research Center notes that this may be the last election “dominated” by Boomers, who along with prior generations have cast the vast majority of votes in every election since 1980.

It’s simple math that the ranks of Boomer voters will decrease in the coming years, while the number of millennial voters increases. Fry notes that this attrition already has reached the point where even if Boomers turn out to vote at their usual 70 percent clip, Gen-Xers and millennials can match them with much lower levels of turnout on volume alone.

He also notes that turnout tends to rise as voters get older, so the typical 50-something percent turnout among Gen-Xers and millennials should continue to rise.

Does this mean that we, as a country, will grow more liberal as Gen-Xers and millennials become a larger share of the electorate? Not necessarily. Research has shown that many of us grow more conservative as we grow older.

So Generation X could just become the new Baby Boomers. Get off our lawn.

Categories: Baby Boomers, Generation X, Generation Y / Millennials, Voting Behavior