The Generational Divide
The young are liberal, the old are conservative. An exception might be coming.
In politics, demographics are key in messaging, for organizational platform development and for policy priorities.
Demographics are pretty consistent with one fact: Age is a major factor in one’s party affiliation. The younger the voter, the greater likelihood said voter is leftist or moderately Democrat in their worldview and philosophy. Logically, the inverse is also often a truism — the older the voter, the greater the likelihood of he or she leans center-Right or far-Right.
An old adage, inaccurately attributed to Winston Churchill (and various others), states: “If you’re not a liberal when you’re young, you have no heart. If you’re not a conservative by the time you’re old, you have no brain.”
While the fascination is usually on the monikers given for each generation and the corresponding traits, it’s the traits found within these age groups that impact the usefulness of the tiered grouping of our adult population.
Using classifications employed by the Pew Research Center, the Silent Generation would currently be 71-88 years of age. This group generally holds a worldview framed by the hardships of war and economic depression — sacrifice, personal responsibility, loyalty and the call to adulthood during crisis. Some 48% of Silents are politically center-Right. Baby Boomers range from 52-71 years old and are likewise largely defined as having a strong work ethic, and being goal-centric, self-assured and more disciplined. And 44% of the Boomers vote to the political Right. The next stratum is Generation X, Americans who are now 36 to 51 years old. This groups tends to be more “me” centric, hence their individualistic approach to social, civic, corporate and political engagement. This is the first generation to live to work, not work to live, and they vote to the Right of center 37% of the time. Finally, Millennials are 18- to 35-year-olds raised to seek constant communication, input and connection. This group is motivated by meaning, with their productivity linked to a purpose that is well communicated or marketed. Just 33% of Millennials vote Right.
As our cultural institutions — education, media, family, faith, government, entertainment and business — move to the left, the immersion of individuals into an environment defined by a “progressive” vision has changed American culture. Interestingly, as adults age with the vivid responsibilities of life, such as parenting, debt, investment, business expansion and countless other realities, a great deal of progressive failures are exposed. One’s worldview becomes no longer framed by an academic exercise in social justice, love and tolerance, but by real life.
As we’ve noted, the more recent one’s birth year, the more one’s political affiliations tend to be more to the left end of the spectrum. But that may soon change based on early research into Generation Z. These post-Millennials have never known life without the Internet, Islamic terrorism or the hyper-partisan climate at the local, state and federal levels of government.
Again, so what?
Some of the oldest of Generation Z voted in the 2016 elections. And the question is, will this be yet another group of youth with an entitled and emotion-based approach to life? Or will it be a generation guided by effective role models and adult leaders?
Based on early unscientific data, these first-time voters, raised during times of recession and personal debt, are more fiscally conservative than their Millennial elders.
A survey of 50,000 high school students aged 14 to 18 years old was shocking: Donald Trump won among participants by 46% to Hillary Clinton’s 31%. A majority identified as Republicans in this Presidential Pulse Study’s entire polling audience.
Further, those casting their ballots for the first time acknowledged the economy as the most important issue followed by education, gun rights and health care. Fifty-six percent declared the country is headed in the wrong direction. That’s a stark departure from the “progressive” mantra that Barack Obama was great and the answer was more of the same through Hillary.
An INC.com article notes that Generation Z identifies honesty as the most important trait of a leader. These kids have a greater respect for older generations, and seem to possess the trait of realism instead of excessive optimism.
That presents an opportunity. Conservatives must not only include the soundness of small government and value of fiscal discipline for the older generations who are more conservative, but the “so what” of meaning and purpose to win the hearts and minds of Millennials and Generation Xers. And endeavoring to win over Generation Z will pay immense dividends.
President Donald Trump spoke quite candidly on the campaign trail, absent the politically correct lexicon of the Left. He pulled no punches in his simple, yet direct, message. Perhaps his populist approach also appeals to Generation Z. Perhaps they’ve seen what leftism hath wrought and want no part of it.
As always, time will tell, but time also has a way of making people more conservative. That’s life experience for you.