Baby boomers climb on GOP wagon

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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Dustin Hoffman’s graduate is rooting for Mitt Romney. Woodstock’s attendees are donating to the Republican National Committee. Haight Ashbury’s residents are complaining about big government.

The long-haired, dope-smoking, free-loving baby boomers are becoming majority-Republican and politically indistinguishable from their elder cousins in the so-called “silent generation,” according to a new Pew Research Center study.

That’s the takeaway lesson from a comprehensive new study of the baby boomers’ changing political attitudes released Thursday by the Pew Research Center.

“You see people in that generation supported [George] McGovern over [Richard] Nixon by 16 points… [but] many of them now are supporting Romney over Obama,” said Carroll Doherty, Pew’s associate director.

This generational shift towards the GOP has also opened up a new generational gap between older and younger voters he said. Younger voters, who include a much higher proportion of non-whites, are far more supportive of President Barack Obama than are older generations, he said.

The Pew study showed that registered boomers favor Romney over Obama by six points, or 51 percent to 45 percent.

That’s a weaker tilt than the older generation, which favors Romney by 13 points, 54 percent to 41 percent.

But it is 30 points more pro-GOP than the youngest Millennial voters, aged 18 to 29, who support Obama by 24 points, or 61 percent to 37 percent.

The high support for Obama among millennials exists even though Obama’s policies have failed to reverse the economic recession, spurring their national debt and shriveling their career prospects.

One explanation, said Doherty, is that 41 percent of the millennial generation is non-while — 20 percent Hispanic, 14 percent African-American and five percent Asian.

In contrast, only 27 percent of the boomer generation were non-whites, said the study, titled “The Generation Gap and the 2012 Election.”

The boomers’ rightward shift is unacknowledged, partly because many boomers — especially those in the university-trained professional classes, such as the media — still prefer to think of themselves as not-so-young Democrats, and more modern than the previous generation.

That earlier generation has acquired the dismissed name, “the silent generation,” partly because it was squeezed between the returning heroes of World War II, and the huge and very ambitious bulge of post-war babies who made the late 1960s so turbulent, and the ‘70s decade so unique.

Many boomers still identify with their outdated heroes of the 1960s and 1970s — Dustin Hoffman’s character in “The Graduate,” the Mike or Mark characters in the unchanging Doonesbury cartoon-strip, and the progressively groomed images of J.F.K. and R.F.K., who were killed by a communist and an Arab, respectively.

The villains is those frozen dramas remain the plastics industry executive, the father-and-son Republican business lobbyists and the anti-communist crusaders.

When asked, the boomers “are more likely to call themselves Democrats,” even while they vote mostly GOP, Doherty said.

The survey’s trend lines show the much-lauded boomer generation drifting steadily towards the conservative views held by the much-derided silent generation of people born just before or during World War II.

Thirty percent of the pre-boomer generation is “angry” at government, and so is 26 percent of boomers.

“Trust in government” is at 16 percent among boomers and silents.

Only 22 percent of the older generation believes the growing population of immigrants is a ”change for the better.” Twenty-three percent of boomers share the same cautious view of the immigration wave.

Silents prefer President Ronald Reagan over Bill Clinton by 37 percent to 35 percent. The boomers prefer Reagan by 45 percent to 42 percent.

Back in 1989, 49 percent of bombers preferred a bigger government. In 2011, 54 percent of boomers wants a smaller government, only four points less than the 49 percent of silents who want a smaller government.

The cause of this shift is unclear, said Doherty. It may be related to the voters’ situation of life, where unmarried voters go for Democrats, while parents vote for the GOP, he said. One clue, he said, lies in the boomers’ attitudes toward marijuana.

“By the late 70s, 49 percent were in favor of legalizing marijuana, but that falls all the way down to 18 percent by 1990,” when many boomers were raising teenagers, he said. Now that the teenagers have left the home, the percentage “has come back to 41 percent,” he said.

Only 31 percent of silents support legalization. Forty-five percent of millennials now support legal marijuana use, while 50 percent oppose.

On guns, 50 percent of boomers and 49 percent of silents think gun rights are more important than gun control. Sixty percent of boomers and 59 percent of silents support the death penalty, and 39 percent of boomers think abortion should be illegal, only a few points lower than 43 percent of silents.

The boomer numbers hide a small split between the older boomers and the younger boomers, who turned 18 while Nixon was in office from 1969 to 1974. Those younger boomers tend to be more Democratic.

Nixon is still something of a hate-figure among liberals and progressives, and among younger boomers, even though he pushed liberal domestic policies and created many new federal programs, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency.

That segment of boomers helps ensure that “boomers have a more positive view of the Democratic Party,” than held by the silents, said Doherty.

“But when it comes to voting, they’re voting more Republican” than ever before, he said.

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