Even drastic GOP plans to change Social Security and Medicare guarantees, led by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s budget reforms, don’t seem to drive older voters away.
Why does getting loads of government money from programs tirelessly defended by Democrats against decades of Republican attacks make today’s senior citizens eager to vote Republican?
Whether we admit it or not, modern generational divisions are deep and real, and older voters today stand squarely with Republicans.
The GOP does promise to preserve generous government benefits for today’s seniors — but talks about denying them to tomorrow’s. In fact, the GOP wins points from aging white Americans when it pledges to push back against racial diversification, multicultural change and any support for younger Americans.
Americans 65 and older support likely Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney over Democratic President Barack Obama by 6 percentage points, according to the most recent mid-April Pew Research Center survey.
Among white seniors, Romney’s margin spikes to 19 percentage points. Meanwhile, those younger than 30 favor Obama by a 28-point blowout.
Republicans are adroitly exploiting elder whites’ fears and prejudices.
Commentators like The New Yorker’s James Surowiecki, The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein, The Nation’s Christopher Hayes and Harvard sociologists Theda Skocpol and Vanessa Williamson (“The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism”) variously note an alarming trend: Today’s elderly regard themselves as uniquely entitled to government support and resent younger generations getting public benefits.
Skocpol and Williamson find the senior-dominated tea party (surveys peg the average age at around 60) is concerned less with “detailed policy logic” than with “societal oppositions.”
True, “deserving” Americans, they find, are vowing to “take our country back” from the “undeserving” young, immigrant and poor.
Older whites view “changing societal norms, greater ethnic diversity, international cosmopolitanism, and new redistributions aimed at younger citizens” as “a frightful threat,” Skocpol and Williamson write.