a picture description Pictured below is a more granular breakdown of this relationship by age. enter image description here Conventional wisdom goes that people become more conservative as they grow older, or rather that people stay the same and that society become more progressive. Either way, it follows that older age groups are more conservative than younger ones.

Above is the breakdown of the current state of this relationship in the US. My question is, is this normal for the US historically speaking? Is there a 'normal' for this in the US?

  • 1
    I guess it really is true: "If you aren't a liberal when you are young, you don't have a heart. If you aren't a conservative when you are old, you don't have a brain." – Chloe Dec 3 at 22:26
  • 1
    Your image is grouped into large chunks to capture "generations", but that misses the variation within each group. I've heard it said that party affiliation has more to do with the politics of the time when you were growing into adolescence rather than just tracking with age, and Gallup's chart here seems to speak to that as well. For instance, instead of "Baby Boomers" (52-70) being tied in yours, it shows a lot more Ds for the subcategory between 58-66ish. (cont...) – Geobits Dec 5 at 19:45
  • (...cont) That particular age group was mostly growing into their teens in the 1960s, which was a particularly "liberal" time in US politics. If people simply "aged out" of liberalism, then they should be more conservative compared to the oldest Gen-Xers (now in their late 40s-early 50s), which doesn't seem to be the case. – Geobits Dec 5 at 19:46
  • @Geobits thanks, I've added that visualization to the question – Gramatik Dec 5 at 20:35
up vote 10 down vote accepted
+50

Probably not. If you are satisfied with merely a counter example, it should be clear from the below image that the 2000 election showed the exact opposite distribution to the one you described in your question.

I suspect we don't have the data to provide the direct answer, as polling is a relatively recent phenomenon. As a result, we likely don't have such an age breakdown except in relatively more recent elections, and we don't have much gauge of even overall national opinion (outside of elections) that predates WWII... However, the following does show that the suggestion given in your question (that younger are always liberal and conservatives are always older) is incorrect. The following shows evidence for a trend that may instead give hints about the demographic distribution of political opinions in earlier eras.

According to this Pew Research says:

the relationship is considerably more complex than young=liberal and old=conservative.

and

A recent paper by two Columbia University researchers that combined multiple survey data sources finds evidence of this sort of generational imprinting. Their study identified five main generations of presidential voters, each shaped by political events during their formative years: New Deal Democrats, Eisenhower Republicans, Baby Boomers, Reagan Conservatives and Millennials. (The researchers note, however, that their model works best among non-Hispanic whites.) Amanda Cox of The Upshot (The New York Times’ data blog) has created a fascinating interactive visualization of the researchers’ model.

Pew Research Center surveys over the past two decades also have found compelling evidence that generations carry with them the imprint of early political experiences.

enter image description here

So it seems that rather, politics is imprinted upon generations who largely hold the same views throughout life. "Older" people are more right leaning currently because they were from the anti-communist cold war era, but the oldest people, from the greatest generation, who fought alongside the communists against the fascists in WWII and supported Roosevelt's New Deal, are more likely to vote democrat.

New contributor
magnus.orion is a new contributor to this site. Take care in asking for clarification, commenting, and answering. Check out our Code of Conduct.

Your Answer

By clicking "Post Your Answer", you acknowledge that you have read our updated terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy, and that your continued use of the website is subject to these policies.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.