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Last updated on April 16, 2014 at 7:25 EDT

Expert Predicts Possible Shift In Senior Voting Bloc

November 4, 2009

The majority of people aged 65 and over cast ballots for John McCain in 2008, but older voters will not necessarily favor Republicans in future presidential elections, according to an article in the latest issue of The Gerontologist (Vol. 49, No. 5).

Author Robert Binstock, PhD, a renowned authority on seniors’ voting patterns, analyzed data from the 2008 national Election Day exit poll conducted by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International, which was financed by major television networks, newspapers, and magazines.

Older people were in fact the only age group to give a majority to McCain. It was just the second time in the last 10 presidential elections, the article points out, that this population segment failed to choose the winner.

“Factors other than old-age policy issues “” in particular, the partisan leanings of current older voters, the candidates’ contrasting ages, and the candidates’ contrasting racial identities “” shed some light on why McCain received distinctive majorities from various cohorts of older voters,” Binstock said.

The polling numbers show that 54 percent of voters aged 65 to 74 endorsed McCain in 2008. Binstock noted that those in this demographic were socialized to politics as youngsters during Republican Dwight Eisenhower’s presidency.

“The partisan leaning of the birth cohort that is now aged in its late 60s is definitely a factor in explaining the preference of a majority of current older voters for Republican presidential candidates,” he wrote.

However, baby boomers now reaching the old age category may have different political preferences. For example, in the recent election, those aged 60 to 64 “” people who entered their formative teen years while Democrat John F. Kennedy was in the White House “” gave more votes to Barack Obama than to McCain.

Seniors’ voting choices also may be affected by attributes unique to a particular candidate. In 2008, there was evidence that voters aged 65 to 74 favored McCain because of his similar age. This particular group of older people was by far the most likely to answer “Only McCain” when asked “Which candidate has the right judgment to make a good president?” There is also the possibility that race may have been a factor, although all white voters aged 30 years and older gave McCain a substantial majority, whereas the youngest cohort of whites, aged 18 to 29 years, favored Obama.

Binstock and other experts on aging will discuss these issues at length during an upcoming symposium titled “An Obama Effect? Examining Changes in Participation, Engagement, and Politics.” It will be held during the 62nd Annual Scientific Meeting of The Gerontological Society of America, which is taking place from November 18 to 22 in Atlanta, GA. An estimated 3,500 professionals are expected to attend the four-day gathering, which includes more than 400 scientific sessions featuring research presented for the first time. Visit www.geron.org/am for more information.