Poll: Yesterday’s Democrats are today’s Republicans

A surprising thing has happened to those war-protesting, Eugene McCarthy-voting, Richard Nixon-hating kids of the ’60s.

They’ve become Republicans.

A Wall St. Journal/NBC poll shows that the demographics of senior citizens has flipped since the Clinton administration.

All of which begs the larger question: What happened? Well, for starters, and to state the obvious, today’s senior citizens aren’t the senior citizens of decades past. For a long stretch of political history, older voters comprised Americans who came of age during the long tenure of Democrat Franklin Roosevelt and his New Deal programs. For many who benefited from them, those programs created a lifelong bond to FDR’s Democratic Party.

Today’s 65-year-old voter, by contrast, would have been 30 or 31 years old when Ronald Reagan was elected president in 1980 and, for all practical purposes, brought the period of New Deal dominance of American politics to a decisive end. Such a voter stood a better chance of becoming a Reagan Republican conservative as a Roosevelt New Deal liberal in adulthood.

And much as the early Baby Boomers—a generation defined as those born between 1946 and 1964—may have come of age supporting left-wing causes, backing liberal Eugene McCarthy for president in 1968 and hating Republican Richard Nixon, there seems little doubt they have become more conservative as they age.

In a separate column, the Wall Street Journal says the changing political demographics might be enough to finish off the idea of Republican-backed entitlement reform.

  • MrE85

    My demographic data keeps insisting that I vote a certain way.

    • Jack

      you should move.

      • MrE85

        It’s much more than where I live. Reduce my life to demographic data, and you might think you know who I am, and what I believe. You would be wrong.

        • Jack

          That’s an interesting article to be written. How our neighborhood profiles us and who we are.

  • Jeff

    I’m a little bit too young to be an old timer, but growing up in the 60’s and 70’s the conventional wisdom was that the whole generation would grow up to be liberal Democrats. I think the social and political “revolution” was never really that deep.

    • One of the things that’s fascinating about following old high-school friends on Facebook is seeing how those war-protesting kids who just wanted to stay out of Vietnam, who came from one of the most diverse cities full of immigrants you can imagine, grew up to basically become conservatives.

      It would be interesting to see exactly where that conversion took place. But it’s definitely nurture over nature.

      • jon

        If Facebook is the deciding factor than I know a lot of die hard conservatives, and a lot of die hard liberals…
        Best I can tell I don’t know a single person who is “middle of the road” though I think that is sampling error.

        • Kassie

          Well, if Facebook is the deciding factor, than I only know liberals since I have unfriended every die hard conservative who has been vocal.

          • jon

            I’ve fought the urge to unfriend any one over politics on Facebook.

            I don’t like the thought that we can all retreat to our ideological corners and re-affirm our stance on things among those who share the same beliefs that we do… Doesn’t seem like that will solve things any better than the name calling that ends up in the comments of ever news article posted on Facebook about global warming…

            (can’t sign in appearently… posting as guest)

          • Kassie

            For me, I don’t allow hate in my timeline. If you are posting against gay people getting married, you are posting hate and get unfriended. If you are posting things that aren’t true about Transgender people, or even gossip about someone who may be Transgendered, you get unfollowed. If you post things that aren’t true and hurtful to the poor, like they are lazy, that is hateful and you get unfriended. Following that little rule makes for all the vocal conservatives on my timeline are unfriended (and a few liberals too.)

          • Pat

            Kassie, I’m with you. I believe in free speech, but I also believe I don’t have to listen to mean, ugly, hateful spewing of any kind. And what absolutely kills me is that a lot of the people posting these kinds of comments are so “religious.” My late husband always said more crimes were committed in the name of religion than all the others put together and I believe that’s true.

      • Jack

        That’s another article to be written. Facebook ‘s What ever happened to Mary Jane; the Social Shape-shifting from Low-cut shoes to Stilettos.

  • Mike

    The glib Gen X-er in me wants to say that they were selfish then and now their politics simply reflects that selfishness. Then again, i could be accused of engaging in generational warfare. Then again, I could accuse the Boomers of doing a masterful job of wrecking the economy for the X-ers and Millenials so that our standard of living will never match up to what they were able to enjoy.

    • Heh. Sounds like your basic Baby Boomer circa 1971

  • MrE85

    Recently, my wife asked me what had shaped my personal political views. I didn’t really have a simple answer. Perhaps because my experiences have been different since high school. But I’m not really THAT different from my friends and relatives. So I can’t really say why.

  • Jim G

    “We’re on the eve of destruction” I just read the lyrics. It’s interesting to compare and contrast how things have changed or not over the span of the Boomer generation

    The warning was just 45 years too soon.


  • David W.

    As a kid growing up in Iowa back in the 1960s, I can assure you that hippies were few and far between, and really only numerous in places where there were colleges and universities. Most of those in my generation ended up working for a living and getting their hair cut regularly. The real Democratic base was those who lived back in the 1930s during FDR’s Presidency, and they were pretty loyal voters too.

  • Dave

    My dad was born in 49. He’s as liberal today as ever. Probably more.

  • Rick
  • Tim

    It would be interesting to see a more detailed demographic breakdown of these numbers. For example, did men become more conservative than women, or vice versa, or was there no difference? And does it hold true across all socioeconomic backgrounds? Things like that.

  • boB from WA

    I remember a cartoon in Mad Magazine that showed the progression from youth to old age and how the that in that progression one went from being fully liberal to fully conservative. I believe that it was and still holds true today.

  • Anna

    This saying from my teen years comes to mind when we debate whether the Baby Boomers converted to Republicanism.

    “Middle age is when your broad mind and your narrow waist begin to change places.”

    The Tea Party Republicans are a very long shot away from the Republicans of my parents’ day (who were survivors of the Great Depression). My parents were both lifelong Democrats and our supper table discussions were interesting and quite lively.

    The Republicans of my parents’ generation could negotiate and compromise. They were willing to reach across the aisle and get things done.

    I can remember my middle sister being completely heartbroken when Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated. She kept all the headline newspapers from the day of his assassination to the funeral at Arlington. These days she is more Republican than many Republicans. What changed her liberal views? Coming into money when her husband became an anesthesiologist making close to $300,000 a year.

    Even though I grew up in the Deep South, racism was never part of my growing up. However, I never knew my family’s hidden racist tendencies until we elected a black president. And all six of us are Baby Boomers.

    While I am conservative on some issues, I don’t consider myself a Republican by any stretch of the imagination. After the last four years, I don’t think I could ever vote for a Republican in a presidential election or a state or local election for that matter. They have moved so far to the right they are off the political map.

    My Democratic heroes are Walter Mondale, Hubert Humphrey, Paul Wellstone and Russ Feingold to name a few. If that makes me a bleeding heart liberal, so be it.

  • Gary F

    I’m 50, on the end of the baby boom. I was a big time lefty and believed all that my leftist professors taught me in college.

    Then I grew up. I got a job working straight commission, got married, bought a house, had a child, all in that order, imagine that.