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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

My G.O.P. generation, er, graduating class.

An article in the Times Week in Review section about political demographics jumped out at me in a rather personal way. It turns out that not only did I grow up in the most solidly Republican place in the U.S. (Utah County, Utah), I'm also part of the most Republican age cohort in the country.

David Kirkpatrick describes a study that shows that "voters typically develop a party preference based on the political atmosphere at the time they come of age and grow more attached to that party over the course of their lives." Hmm.

My senior year in high school encompassed the election of George H.W. Bush and the end of Ronald Reagan's presidency, the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, and the protests and crackdown in Tienanmen Square, which I remember vividly. The Berlin Wall fell later that year. Even though I attended my first Democratic Party caucus in Orem, Utah, in 1989 as a newly eligible voter and convert to liberalism, I was rather vividly aware that almost everyone I knew was a Republican. (There were four of us at that caucus. My parents were at the G.O.P. caucus that evening, held in the junior high school auditorium.) Can't say that I'm surprised that the late '80s looked like mighty good times to impressionable youngsters, thanks to the president I had described in an eighth-grade U.S. history research paper as one of the greatest presidents in American history. (I also worked diligently on a large charcoal illustration of Reagan in my art class that year.) Ah, the follies of youth.

But back to the newspaper article. There's good news for Democrats in this study:

"The longer Bush's approval ratings stay in the mid-30's, the more lost young Republicans there will be in the next generation," said Donald P. Green, a political scientist at Yale. But by the same rule, voters who came of age in the Reagan era are reliably Republican. Voters around the age of 36 are the only age group in which Republicans outnumber Democrats, according to 2006 surveys by the Pew Research Center. And it will be decades before they pass through the populace, "like an elephant through a boa constrictor," Professor Hansen said.

Let's see: I turn 36 next month. (Be sure to take a look at the accompanying graph.) But it's not much of an elephant that's passing through that boa constrictor: Although more 35- and 36-year-old Americans identify with the Republican Party, aren't those of us born between 1969 and 1971 from the low point of the Generation X baby slump? My cohort may idolize Reagan, but I can't imagine that two years worth of gung-ho Gen X Republicanism really constitutes a big deal — especially when you check out how strongly twentysomethings today identify with the Democratic Party. There's a whole lot more of those kids of the baby boomers than there are members of the Class of '88 or '89.

Find yourself on that chart. Do you see anything there that helps explain part of your own coming into political consciousness?

("Voters' allegiances, ripe for the picking," David D. Kirkpatrick, New York Times 10.15.06, reg req'd; "Today's voters: How generation influences party," Bill Marsh, New York Times 10.15.06, reg req'd)

Copyright © 2006 by Philocrites | Posted 17 October 2006 at 10:14 PM

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October 18, 2006 12:49 AM | Permalink for this comment

I remember peace marches when I was in high school. I think that was my first consciousness of politics. My generation is the second highest Dem group on that chart.
Has anything changed? Except to get worse? whatever it was we did, it clearly didn't work.

Lynn Gazis-Sax:

October 18, 2006 02:13 AM | Permalink for this comment

Mine was heavily shaped by the fact that I became politically aware (in junior high school) at around the time Watergate broke. I can remember coming home from school every day to watch the Watergate hearings, I remember specific people on the committee (Ervin, Inouye, Weicker), I remember watching Nixon deny that he was a crook, finding out about the enemies list, hearing his resignation speech. And I actually can't hear "Hail to the Chief" without being reminded that the first time I heard it, it was a haggard Nixon, looking much older than he'd looked only recently, walking in to face questions about Watergate.

And I suppose that did predispose me against becoming a Republican.


October 18, 2006 07:06 AM | Permalink for this comment

Thinking about televised hearings, I'm suddenly reminded that the Iran-Contra hearings were also part of my high school experience.

But I still wonder how it is that I didn't become a Republican: After all, I went to the American Legion's "Boys State" and I'm an Eagle Scout — which partly explains why I'm unhappy every time I see something like this. Fundamentally, I guess it comes down to experiences I had as a high school journalist and student council geek; to the influence of my father, a public school teacher and, at the time, a moderate Republican in a hard-right county; and to my growing appreciation for critical approaches to politics.

A key moment, actually, came in early 1989 at a scholarship interview with a bunch of professors at Brigham Young University: The finalists for the award had been asked to read an essay by Allan Bloom (of "The Closing of the American Mind" fame), probably from The American Spectator, and another essay called "In Praise of Blasphemy," an editorial in defense of Salman Rushdie from The New Republic. We were to come prepared to discuss both essays with a faculty panel. I got the distinct impression that I was the only finalist who came down solidly with TNR and against Bloom. (I also got one of the scholarships, but gave it up and left BYU after one year.)

I think that essay from The New Republic marked the fork in the road for me. (I'm guessing it was written by Hendrik Hertzberg, who now writes for the New Yorker.) It also helps explain why I've read TNR more faithfully than almost any other magazine.


October 18, 2006 10:11 AM | Permalink for this comment

The highest point for Dems on the graph is the cusp between Nixon and Ford, which was 1974.

That's the year I graduated from the same high school that graduated the Bushes. (They graduated in other years.) The topic of our commencement address was that we had been entrusted with the opportunity and the education to be able to lead and change the world, and that our president's looming disgrace (he had not yet resigned in June) had given us a vivid example of what happens when we place a higher value on power lust and self-seeking than on pesonal integrity and service to others.

Something similar was going on everywhere else in the country that year, of course. But if that's what even the Bush alma mater was telling its fresh grads, no wonder it's the high water mark for Democratic affiliation.

(Perhaps until now.)


October 29, 2006 01:17 AM | Permalink for this comment

I'm 34 and was in highschool in the end of Reagan and the beginning of the Bush years. But my father was a social worker in the 80s so growing up I always identified as a democrat. I remember in 84, volunteering for the Mondale campaign but to go along with this study, I was the only kid in my class to vote for Fritz in the Weekly Reader Poll. But by the time I graduated from highschool the lopsided GOP identification no longer seemed evident, especially after Iran Contra,etc


October 29, 2006 05:56 PM | Permalink for this comment

Nice post. I teach an Introduction to Gen X class (of mostly 70 and 80-somethings, and will use this in my political consciousness and engagement outline.

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