A senior citizen is legally defined as an individual over the age of sixty. Among the many different generational groups, senior citizens fall within what is labeled the “Baby Boomer” Generation. This generation is categorized as the group of people born between 1944-1964, immediately following the end of the Second World War. Baby Boomers enjoyed this post-war period of economic prosperity and growth that led to the development of middle-class suburbia.
A generation known for its immense size, the power Baby Boomers wield across all facets of society is unmeasurable. This is especially true in the case of politics. The fate of an election can rest upon the voting power this generation possesses. It is important to note, however, that Baby Boomers care a lot about the broader issues in their communities, and their determination to do something about it is what mainly drives this group to go out in full-force to the voting booths every election. How do they wield this power, though?
How Seniors Wield the Power to Vote
Being able to influence the outcome of an election seems simple on paper, but behind the scenes, it actually requires an insurmountable amount of effort. Part of the reason why Baby Boomers are so successful in this aspect is based on how they rally behind core issues and stir up civic participation.
As civic participation has gone up among senior citizens, so has their ways of becoming involved in the political arena. For instance, in a study conducted by Serrat, Scharf, Villar, and Gomez (2020), civic participation is broken down into different types of social and political participation.
Types of Civic Activity:
|Social participation||Political participation|
|Individual forms||Type 1||Type 3|
|Prosocial/helping/altruistic behaviors outside the family
Donation of money/in-kind support to charities/NGOs
Contacting political representatives
Donating money to political parties and organizations
Writing letters/emails/blogs/articles with political content
Boycotting and political consumption
Other individual political manifestations
|Collective forms||Type 2||Type 4|
|Participation in volunteering, community, or charitable organizations||Running for or holding a public office
Working on campaigns
Participation in political organizations or forums
Participation in social movement organizations
Other collective political manifestations
For example, social participation will be labeled under individual and collective forms, in which the subsequent political participation can differ between voting and production of political content, or active participation in organizations, political campaigns, and protests. All of these activities combined to reinforce the social and political outreach that senior citizens can have.
Motivating Factors Which Influence Senior Voting Trends
Behind this arduous effort is an underlying motivation for many seniors to vote en masse. But what, exactly, motivates seniors to do so (and in such large numbers)? For instance, according to studies conducted by Proulx, Curl and Emmer (2018) and Carr, Kail, Matz-Costa, and Shavit (2018), civic participation or engagement is correlated to higher cognitive function and the desire to counteract the effects of loneliness at older ages.
Consequently, active volunteering efforts by older individuals contribute to elevated levels of physical activity, cognitive stimulation, and social interaction (Fried et al., 2004). In addition, being able to partake in activities which allow Baby Boomers to establish a formal connection to individuals of similar ideologies has been shown to improve their emotional well-being. This effect is notable in seniors that have experienced friendship loss or been widowed.
As a result, all of these factors can be possible reasons that explain the easy mobilization of the senior population when it comes to political engagement.
Factors Associated with Civic Engagement
By diving deeper into the factors that motivate senior citizens, we can see that easily fall within one of two camps. These factors can be broken down into Antecedent and Experience Factors.
- Antecedent Factors: Antecedent factors are the experience or consequences which explain the civic engagement of a person. Some of the factors included here are: relatively high social and human capital resources, extraverted personalities, and staving off aging declination (Serta et al., 2020).
- Experience Factors: Experience factors take into consideration the experiences that volunteers endure during a campaign period. According to Serta et al., (2020), experience factors are “the meanings participants attach to their participation”.
With this in mind, the basic understanding that comes from the factors stated above is that seniors are able to feel better about themselves as they get both social and health benefits from interacting with a much larger population outside of their own space. The experiences they accrue throughout the campaign trail will be affected by both the sociopolitical landscape and the people they encounter. But at the end of the day, seniors push forward to the polls evermore.
Issues Troubling Seniors
Nevertheless, there are other powers at play in an election year that determine whether a senior will be deeply involved or sit that election cycle out. The policies any administration touts out in every level of government are what make or break voter turnout across all demographics.
In this case, senior citizens’ focus on their communities has encompassed a multitude of issues such as student debt, which has become a burden on their grandchildren. Other issues that top this include:
- Affordability and Accessibility
- Social Security Financial Support
- Medicare and Medicaid Extensions
- The Economy
- Climate Change
- Safeguarding the Future for the Next Generation
- Education Reform
For many within the Baby Boomer population, there is a concern that stems in regard to passing onto their children and grandchildren a viable future for them. This means that putting support behind policies that tackle both short-term and long-term issues like the economy, climate change, and healthcare reform is the top priority for seniors.
Why This Matters
Where the focus falls on the issues that plague the United States, and even the world, by seniors is crucial. Being the largest voting demographic, Baby Boomers make up almost half of the electorate at 49%. Although the voting electorate of the younger generations such as Gen Z is increasing at a steady pace, older generations still have major sway on an election outcome.
How senior citizens vote now on the critical issues of our time will dictate the future of the next generation to come. Despite agreeability on some major policies with the younger generations, the political divide between seniors and the youth is evident in today’s polarized climate.
As it stands right now, the generational gap between Baby Boomers and the younger generations, Millennials, and Gen-Xers, leaves the direction of politics in the United States in uncertainty. The hostile, divisive attitudes adopted by these generations were only further emboldened following the election of President Donald J. Drumpf.
Correspondingly, the polarization of each generation is largely attributed to the vastly different political ideologies found between both. Older generations have a tendency to be much more conservative in ideology, in contrast to their much younger counterparts that have a liberal mindset. Under these circumstances, the sharing of mixed ideologies has seen a decline which has well further deepened the divide.
As a consequence, it has also resulted in the doubling down of existing ideologies. For example, on social and economic issues such as racial discrimination and income inequality, the call to resolve and diminish the effects of these problems is highly common under the younger generations. By all means, though, hope still exists at the end of the tunnel.
The Future and Beyond
With the decline of older populations, the mentality put forth by Millenials and Gen-Xers will only continue to grow. However, it is important for both sides of the generational gap to come to a mutual understanding, listen to each other, and find common ground on the issues that will affect the course of the nation.
Additionally, the ever-increasing diversification of ethnic and cultural sectors within the population exposes many to new ideas of thought never imagined before. Senior citizens’ renewed openness to protect and safeguard the future of their communities may hold the key to ending the divide. At the end of the day, the power of the senior vote – while more pronounced than ever – will prove crucial in these upcoming elections.