Boomer hippies could be the pivotal group that enables an old man to cling to power

Someone once said, “If you’re not a liberal at 20, you have no heart. If you’re not a conservative at 40, you have no brains”. For decades, this aphorism has broadly tracked with how Americans vote. But now, aging Baby Boomers clinging to their progressive roots are proving to be immemorial Joe Biden’s staunchest backers, challenging the notion that cranky, un-woke curmudgeons are the demographic group propelling Donald Trump’s poll numbers. Trump’s lead has shrunk to 0.2 per cent in the average of polls. Should he be worried that seniors could sink his campaign?

A recent New York Times/Marist poll revealed that the 65 + set is Biden’s best age category. A remarkable 30 per cent strongly support the man who chose to wear Ray Bans at his most recent press conference with Japanese leader Fumio Kishida. By contrast, just 4 per cent of 18-29s and 7 per cent of 30-44s strongly back the 81-year-old grandfather of seven. Meanwhile, 51 per cent of the 65 and ups regard Trump “very unfavorably.” By comparison, just 42 per cent of 18-29s regard Trump very unfavorably, which is surprising given that he got crushed in that age category by 24 points in 2020 and 30 points,  according to exit polls, in 2016. Also, 65 and ups were the least likely group in the poll to say Biden is too old to be President (56 per cent), compared to 87 per cent of 18-29s.

A recent NPR/Marist poll and several others further corroborate Trump’s surprising weakness with seniors. The over 60 club in this poll was the only age group where Biden’s approval rating was over 50, though barely, at 51 per cent. By contrast, his favorable rating with 18-29 year olds in that poll was just 33 per cent. Some 32 per cent of over 60s in the poll strongly approve of the President, compared to just 17-22 per cent who strongly approve of him in every other age bracket. Trump is 20 points underwater on favorability with the 60-pluses, 58 to 38, compared to negative 13 for 18-29 year olds.

And it isn’t just that many Boomers detest Trump. Only 21 per cent of 60 and overs in the poll strongly agree that America has become too politically correct, whereas 35 per cent of 45-59 year old voters feel that way. Voters were also asked whether discrimination against white people has become just as big a problem as discrimination against blacks. 53 per cent of 18–29-year-old voters agree, compared to just 44 per cent of over 60s, the lowest figure of any age range.

All of this is consequential because Republicans have historically done well with seniors, who turn out for elections in far greater numbers than young people. Seniors on fixed incomes are also harmed the most by inflation, so on paper at least, the GOP should be performing better with older voters. The media obsess over the youth vote, and Biden is clearly paying for his support for Israel with Gen Z and Millennials. But the turnout rate for 18-24 year old voters was 51 per cent in 2020, compared to 76 per cent for those age 65-74. The importance of the older voters and older donors may also help explain why 77-year-old Trump had no trouble vanquishing his much younger rivals.

So what’s going on? Nate Cohn, The New York Times’ chief political analyst, says that yesterday’s hippies have become today’s seniors and they’ve retained their loyalty to the Democratic Party. He’s likely correct. Trump won the 65 + category in 2016 by 9 points but just 4 points in 2020, so the trend is clear. There may also be other factors at work. Some seniors may appreciate Biden’s efforts at reducing prescription drug prices and likely trust him more than Trump on health care, social security and other issues relevant to older voters. And older voters may find Republican attacks on Biden’s cognitive decline offensive as they consider the senile Joe barbs not just an attack on the President but on themselves as well.

If you start typing into Google, “Why won’t Boomers…” the search engine predicts “retire” and “die” as the top two choices, reflecting how some young people feel about a generation that’s broadly resented for refusing to relinquish positions of authority.

And so, perhaps it’s fitting that Boomers could be the pivotal group that enables a soon-to-be 82-year-old man to cling to power for four more years.