AARP

Older Voters to Continue to Set US Political Agenda

Longer lifespans have many ramifications for housing, health care and mobility. They also have ramifications on US elections as the number of older adults continues to grow, packing even more clout on influencing political agendas by both Republicans and Democrats and perhaps deciding who will face off in the 2020 presidential election against Donald Trump.

Longer lifespans have many ramifications for housing, health care and mobility. They also have ramifications on US elections as the number of older adults continues to grow, packing even more clout on influencing political agendas by both Republicans and Democrats and perhaps deciding who will face off in the 2020 presidential election against Donald Trump.

The graying of America isn’t news, but the ramifications of a larger, older population on US elections may be underappreciated and undervalued in political campaign strategies, including for the 2020 presidential election.

Michael Hobbes, writing for Huffpost, says, “The US electorate is the oldest it’s ever been and will keep getting older for at least four more decades. Voters over retirement age will continue to dominate US politics until at least 2060.”

Not only are there more older people in America, Hobbes says there are more older registered voters who actually vote. Older voters take a different set of issues and perspectives to the ballot box than younger generations. And older voters are whiter and wealthier than younger cohorts.

“Older voters have unique characteristics and specific interests that transcend the Democratic-Republican divide,” Hobbes says. “From their economic circumstances to their demographic makeup, the concerns of older voters are only going to become more prominent as the baby boom generation enters retirement.” 

That’s why, he adds, politicians don’t like to cross older voters on issues such as Medicare and Social Security. In less obvious ways, they also recognize older Americans are largely white, traditional in their social views, more comfortable with the status quo and wealthier than the generations that follow them.

Washington Governor Jay Inslee is one of seven declared or soon-to-declare candidates running for president who is 65 years or older. President Trump is 72. Based on current polls, if Joe Biden enters the race as expected, he will be the Democratic frontrunner. Biden is 76. His closest challenger is Bernie Sanders who is 77.

Washington Governor Jay Inslee is one of seven declared or soon-to-declare candidates running for president who is 65 years or older. President Trump is 72. Based on current polls, if Joe Biden enters the race as expected, he will be the Democratic frontrunner. Biden is 76. His closest challenger is Bernie Sanders who is 77.

These tensions are evident in the mix of Democratic presidential candidates that stretch from young, fresh faces touting universal health care, free college tuition and transformational climate change policies to older, more seasoned pols who talk about preserving Social Security and Medicare and pursuing progressive legislation at a more measured pace. 

Young progressives point to the energy and new voters they are bringing to the Democratic Party. But in raw numbers, eligible voters who are 65 or older already outnumber Millennials and the gap is projected to grow larger over the next four presidential election years. That could heavily influence whether a fresh, younger face or a familiar, older face wins the Democratic nomination after the gauntlet of primary elections. Almost half of the declared or likely candidates for president in 2020 are 65 or older. 

Older voters have historically been more Republican than Democratic. Even though that is changing overall and especially in highly blue states, older adults as an age group are more moderate in their viewpoints. They tend to see themselves as the people who will have to pay for whatever policies are enacted. That reticence is almost hard-wired into the political process, according to Hobbes, and affects both Democratic and Republican policymaking. 

“To a great extent, older voters are still setting the agenda,” says Andrea Campbell, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology political scientist. “They’re incredibly important to both parties’ coalitions. Politicians remain reluctant to run afoul of older voters.”

As AARP bluntly said in its April 30, 2018 bulletin, “If candidates want to win, they better pay attention to the issues that matter to Americans 50-plus.”

 

Baby Boomers: An Underserved Market

One study found Boomers spend more money per week on food than any other group and are willing to skip dessert for a glass of wine.

One study found Boomers spend more money per week on food than any other group and are willing to skip dessert for a glass of wine.

The media made a lot noise last year when Millennials (people born from 1981 to 1997) surpassed Baby Boomers (1946 to 1964) as the largest living generation in the United States. Advertisers were rejoicing because Millennials are the coveted 18 to 45 year old age group – and now the biggest target.

But size doesn’t matter when it comes to marketing. It is money. Baby Boomers may be older, but as a group they have more disposable income and are practiced consumers.

According to a recent Huffington Post article, “Baby Boomers currently account for nearly $230 billion in sales for consumer packaged goods, out-buying age groups in products like coffee, magazines and diet soda. What’s more, they will control 70 percent of the nation’s disposal income and stand to inherit $15 trillion in the next 20 years.” (Based on a study conducted by Nielsen Marketing.)

  • Baby Boomer wants and needs aren’t focused on retirement homes and vitamin supplements.
  • The fastest growth in “gadget” use is among people age 55 and older.
  • Boomers have been the fastest-growing segment of health-club memberships since 1998 (American Sports Data) and 25 percent of health club members are age 55 years and older.
  • Boomers are social. The number of online dating sites for people age 50 and older is growing rapidly. SeniorMatch.com claims nearly 4 million members.
  • Food, health and wine. One study found Boomers spend more money per week on food than any other group and are willing to skip dessert for a glass of wine.

CFM’s research among Baby Boomers has found the group is more interested in quality and exemplary service than price. However, Boomer consumers will switch products and brands if expectations aren’t met.

Consumer companies are struggling to figure out the market, but the rewards are worth the effort. As Jody Holtzman, head of AARP’s Thought Leadership unit stated emphatically, “You’d have to be an idiot to turn your back on this humongous growth market.”