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Are Seniors Moving Republican?

The New York Times seems to be making rather a speciality out of hyping thinly-researched political trends in its pages. The latest example was in last Sunday’s "Week in Review" section, where Sheryl Gay Stolberg enlightened us on how Baby Boomers were moving seniors toward the Republican party.

Oh, really? And what is the evidence for this trend? Well, the Boomers are getting older and lately there have been some elections where seniors have voted Republican. But, of course, there have always been some elections where seniors have voted Republican; they are not immune to overall political trends and tend to swing in the direction the country is moving. For example, seniors voted heavily for Reagan in 1980 and 1984–even more so than the country as a whole.

Oh, but seniors’ (60 and over) vote for the Republicans for President went up from 44 percent in 1996 to 47 percent in 2000, Stolberg avers. But the Republican share of the Presidential vote among all voters went up 7 points, so such a change is hardly impressive. Moreover, the Democrats carried seniors by an identical margin (4 points) in both elections. Some trend.

Well, what about the fact that seniors voted Republican for the House in three successive elections (1994, 1996, 1998)? But, as Stolberg herself notes, in the most recent election for which we have data (2000), seniors swung back toward the Democrats, favoring them by 4 points, while the country was about evenly split!

This "trend" is looking shakier and shakier. Then, add in the fact that the youngest seniors–those 60-64 and therefore closest in age to the Boomers–were actually the most pro-Democratic group of seniors in that election and one is forced to conclude that there just isn’t a lot of there there (to paraphrase Gertrude Stein).