The largest survey ever of voters over 40 generates surprising results from America's most influential demographic
As the 2004 election nears, both major political parties are counting on the votes of their traditional supporters. But what about the largest electoral bloc in the nation – the 77-million-strong Boomer generation? Where do they stand on today's controversial issues? How are they likely to vote? In what amounts to nothing less than a wake up call to Republicans and Democrats alike, a groundbreaking AARP The Magazine survey of three generations of voters conducted by RoperASW, reveals that Boomers not only defy convenient political categorization, but are also increasingly disenchanted with the two party system. In fact, 56% of Boomers surveyed say that the country needs a new strong third political party. Along with other startling findings, this sentiment suggests that the Boomer vote is up for grabs.
The message of the survey for both political parties is simple: If you think you know Boomers, think again. Portrayed as liberal during the1960's, the majority of Boomers, now comfortably middle-aged and moving into positions of power, hold decidedly liberal positions on some issues (e.g. abortion, gun control, stem cell research) but they also endorse some conservative values. For example, they overwhelmingly support the death penalty, harsher prison sentences and school prayer. Far from monolithically liberal or conservative, the Boomer generation is now clearly fragmented.
Furthermore, this fragmentation is leading Boomers to focus increasingly on issues rather than personalities. In fact, Boomers were almost evenly split on whether a candidate's personal qualities matter more to them than his or her positions on key issues. Older Americans, by a sizable margin, felt that personal traits mattered most.
"Boomers evidently like their politics a la carte – a position from here, a position from there," says Hugh Delehanty, Editor-in-Chief, AARP Publications. "The Boomers' seemingly contradictory ideological convictions make it increasingly difficult for politicians to pin down the demographic."
"This has significant implications for both political parties" explains John Rother, Director of Policy and Strategy for AARP. "We know that older voters are counted on for both their loyalty and participation on Election Day. The jury is still out on Boomers."
The AARP The Magazine survey was conducted from a pool of 1,804 Americans split evenly between the Boomer Generation (ages 40 to 57), the Silent Generation (ages 58 to 69), and the GI Generation (ages 70 and older). Some examples of the survey's findings:
On social issues…
- 57% of Boomers support abortion rights, compared with 43% of GIs
- 26% of Boomers support gay marriage, compared with only 11% of GIs
- 59% of Boomers feel that the federal government has a responsibility to provide healthcare to all citizens, compared with only 48% of GIs
On economic issues…
- 51% of Boomers describe themselves as fiscally conservativ
- 20% of Boomers call themselves " very " or " moderately " liberal, compared with an even smaller 15% of Gis