Some scholars wonder if older voters are blocking social policy changes

Historians in the News

WASHINGTON (Nov. 18) -- As the baby boomers who gave us the term "generation gap" turn 65, a new divide is opening between young and old over everything from health care to gay rights to the right to get high.

Republicans and Democrats alike insist it's time to stop piling debt onto future generations, yet political observers say the electoral clout of seniors may prove the biggest obstacle to reining in government spending. And just as in the 1960s, when many older Americans stood on the sidelines of the civil rights and women's movements, polls show seniors are the least enthused about allowing gays to serve openly in the military or get married.

"On social policy, we have a generation that consumes a huge portion of the federal budget yet doesn't approve of other Americans receiving benefits," said Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. "On cultural issues, there is a huge disconnect between retirees and much of the rest of the country."...

In 2008, elderly voters were the only age group to vote for Sen. John McCain in a year when young people turned out in force for Obama. This year, young people stayed home, giving seniors, who normally vote in high numbers anyway, even more say in the outcome.

"You really had a wave of the past, not a wave of the future," said American University professor Leonard Steinhorn, author of "The Greater Generation: In Defense of the Baby Boom Legacy." "This election did not represent the mood of the country. It represented the mood of the voters -- that's a truly different demographic."...

comments powered by Disqus