Tuesday, November 21, 2017

An Honest Graft Thanksgiving: The Generation Gap Keeps Growing

The term "generation gap" is most commonly associated with the 1960s and early 1970s, when the unusually large cohort of Americans born during the post-World War II baby boom reached adolescence and then adulthood. According to a widely-accepted perception, a society-wide gulf opened up during this period dividing the then-youthful baby boomers from their parents and grandparents over political issues such as civil rights, women’s rights, and the Vietnam War as well as cultural battles over music, art, fashion, sexual practices, and recreational drug use. A half-century later, the popular identification of "the sixties" with a burst of youth-led social change remains as familiar as ever in the collective American mind, even for the growing share of the national population born too late to have experienced the era themselves.

But a much bigger, though less well-promoted, generation gap is happening right now. The difference in political loyalties between younger and older Americans is both larger and more consistent today than it was during the golden age of boomer self-mythologization:

This growing gap in the partisan affections of the young and the old is caused by two parallel developments. One is that Americans under the age of 40, especially members of the "millennial generation" (born in 1982 and after), are distinctively more liberal and Democratic than their older counterparts. The other is that older generations have become more Republican-leaning over time—even the baby boomers who once symbolized sixties-style lefty politics:

Unsurprisingly, Gallup data find that job approval of President Trump is consistently correlated with age. Older Americans have collectively mixed feelings about Trump, while younger Americans overwhelmingly dislike him:

Trump Job Approval by Age, Jan–Nov 2017

The contemporary generation gap also extends to non-presidential elections. Both of the governor's races held earlier this month produced significant age differences in partisan support. In Virginia, voters aged 18-44 supported Democrat Ralph Northam for governor by a 30-point margin (64 percent to 34 percent), according to media exit polls, while voters 45 and older narrowly preferred his Republican opponent Ed Gillespie (51 percent to 49 percent). In New Jersey, Democratic candidate Phil Murphy and Republican nominee Kim Guadagno similarly split the over-45 vote (exit polls gave Murphy a 3-point edge) while Murphy swept the under-45 vote by a lopsided ratio (66 percent to 30 percent).

American politics today is shot through with intergenerational conflict, from cultural disagreements over transgender rights to economic proposals that raise tax rates on students while cutting them for wealthy investors and the estates of multimillionaires. If your Thanksgiving dinner table becomes the battleground for a political war between the generations this week, you will surely not be alone.