Voting Old

In the analyses of the recent election, many commentators noted that young voters helped Democrats win, especially in close races. It shouldn’t be surprising because research has shown that younger adults tend to be more liberal and vote Democratic while older folks are more conservative and vote Republican.

Yet it’s hard to grasp because I had assumed that my generation of baby boomers would carry our liberal politics into old age. We were the generation that opposed the Vietnam War, supported civil and women’s rights and started the first Earth Day celebrations.

In my (adopted) hometown, I remember in my 20s seeing that tidal wave of change. A city council that consisted of white men was replaced with two women, an environmentalist, a black man and a gay man. At the time it seemed revolutionary. Yet somehow those young voters who threw the old white guys out are now getting more conservative. How does this happen?

Research shows that as we age, we process information slower. I was shocked to read that our mental capabilities peak in our 20s and head downhill since then. However, even though we might not be as smart as our younger selves or the younger generation, I was glad to read that we compensate with wisdom accumulated over decades.

Because we need more time to comprehend our ever-changing world (like figuring out our new cell phones), we resort to old patterns of thinking because it’s easier than processing new ways. If we grew up thinking that tattoos only belong on sailors, we might still wince when we see our niece with tattoos all over her body. Or if we grew up with prejudices, like believing that fat people are lazy, it might be harder to get rid of them. In other words, it takes more brain power to process new information. It’s easier to stick to our habitual patterns.

And at this stage of life, we have so much change already: our bodies are letting us down, friends are dying or facing serious health issues, new technology is confusing and sometimes scary; and we often don’t recognize our own towns as the pace of urban renewal quickens. Because life is too hard already, we cling to what’s familiar. No wonder we’re drawn to politicians who reinforce our prejudices and who promise stability and order.

And yet I’m happy to see a new generation (most in their 40s and 50s) take power after the last election. The younger legislators perceive the world differently than my generation, are comfortable in the new world that they partly created and are ready and willing to try new approaches. I welcome their energy and new voices—just as long as they occasionally listen to the wisdom of their elders.

9 thoughts on “Voting Old

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  1. Thanks for this overview, Kath. As an older person, I am challenged almost every day with something that takes more brain power than I have or than I want to use up–like trying to figure out why my fancy Nest thermostat isn’t working. I inherited the darned thing when I moved in here, and I have more important things to do with my wits than dink around with a thermostat whose claim to fame is that it learns your habits and thinks for you. I’ve recently started collecting life stories that I call “Theater of the Absurd.” My 77 years of accumulated wisdom have not prepared me for the world I live in now, except in this way: I know what is important (who we vote into office) and what isn’t (spending time learning “smart” devices). And after 77 years, I get it that I must learn to find the humor in the absurd and not let it diminish my basic nature, which is optimism.

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    1. Verna, I agree that new technology takes way more brain power than I have. I fantasize that I could hire a tech aide, someone who could figure out why my camera doesn’t work, why my computer is so slow, why I can’t get incoming calls on my phone, why my portable speaker stopped working, etc. At the same time that person can deal with all the phone trees I have to go through to get help. Is there a way to go backwards and get rid of all of this? I have a friend who doesn’t own a smart phone or computer, and I envy him.

      Keep being optimistic!

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  2. I have a Nest thermostat, and having it “learn” my habits or save energy isn’t why I love it. I am constantly adjusting the temperature because I get cold when inactive. The great benefit is being able to do it from my phone rather than having to get up and go turn a dial on the thermostat.

    As for keeping up with the younger generations (I’m of the silent generation) and their toys, I’m lucky to have a techie son nearby who can help me. But yes, I struggle to remember the details, comprehend what should or has to happen, etc. A shorter attention span really makes it tough. Too often I try to look up how to do something, and by the time I fire up the computer I’ve forgotten what I was going to look up!

    Yes, I’m happy to let competent “youngsters” run our government (emphasis on “competent”). They understand and function easily in the modern world with all its tech, changes, etc.

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    1. Susan, the Nest thermostat sounds great, especially when you’re sitting on the couch, like me, with a cup of tea (or wine) and don’t want to get up. Lucky you having a techie son. I wonder if I can find one.

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      1. My daughter-in-law installed mine. You probably have neighbors who could do it for you. It’s honestly one of the best gifts I’ve ever received.

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  3. In my country older people usually vote in whomever promises to raise their pensions, or lower taxes, or reduce working hours, and so on. The personal qualities of the candidate don’t count for much. There is no civic education, no political instruction. «You don’t need to think, we will think for you», claim the politicians. Most of us vote and expect that it will be better next time. But it never gets better , the politicians are always made from the same pattern and never learn from the mistakes of others.

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    1. Here I think people vote partly based on personality. At least Portuguese voters do the research on who would best help them. It does seem amazing that once in a while we get a real leader.

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