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America's Angry Older Voters

They're leading the bad-mood brigade that would throw the bums out

Americans are even angrier than usual at Congress, President Obama and pretty much anyone else holding elected office.

And older Americans are leading the bad-mood brigade, driven by economic and market turmoil, an ugly summer slugfest over the debt ceiling, threats to retiree financial and health programs, and general angst.

See also: Medicare, Medicaid on the table.

"It's an American tradition: When things are bad, you throw the rascals out," says Stephen Hess, a scholar at the Brookings Institution and a former adviser to Presidents Ford and Carter.

A recent USA Today/Gallup poll set a new record for discontent. A record low of 21 percent of registered voters polled said they thought most members of Congress should be reelected.

Obama's approval rating also hit a new low of 39 percent earlier in August, according to Gallup tracking polls.

"There's a rather nasty mood out there," says Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. Quinnipiac's July poll showed Obama's approval ratings lower by two percentage points among Americans 55 and older, compared with all ages. The approval figures for both Republicans and Democrats in Congress also were slightly lower among those 55-plus, as compared with voters of all ages.

"There's a pattern. The older people are, the more frustrated people are, and the less supportive they are of both Congress and the president," Brown says.

A Pew Research Center for the People & the Press poll released Thursday showed older people were less inclined to vote for Republicans and Democrats in Congress or for Obama than voters of all ages.

Older Americans tend to be more politically engaged, so phenomena such as anger at incumbents is "amplified" among them, Hess says.

The voter angst has even trickled down to disapproval of governors and other state-level politicians. "When Washington gets a cold, states get pneumonia, and the localities often die," says Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

Next: Anger over economy sets the tone. >>

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