climate change

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.”

 

Connecting the Dots on Climate Response

Cognitive science, not climate science, may hold the clue for how to engage the public to recognize and address the threats posed by climate change.

Cognitive science, not climate science, may hold the clue for how to engage the public to recognize and address the threats posed by climate change.

The effects of climate change are palpable, but the response by a large swath of people has been tepid. A new psychological paper offers an explanation – we are all like frogs in a pot of water being brought to a boil. We can tell our environment is heating up, but not enough to hop out of the pot.

The insights developed by Sander van der Linden, Edward Maibach and Anthony Leiserwitz could offer clues for how to connect the dots between what some view as the greatest threat to human existence and a public that ranks global warming as less important than jobs and defending against terrorists.

As reported on NPR, the paper written by three psychologists highlights five features of human thought patterns that may account for the mismatch between urgent calls for climate action and widespread public disengagement on the issue. Here is a quick summary of their insights:

•  People respond to personal experiences more than abstractions. Climate action champions use statistics, trends and other abstract references to describe the problem, which fail to connect with everyday reality for many people.

•  Climate change is an enormous global issue that can intimidate people who feel as if they are powerless to make a difference. Individual efforts to drive less, curb water use or increase recycling may be viewed as useful, but only a "drop in the bucket."

•  Humans react differently to immediate threats than to future ones. Imminent threats demand some action, while threats further into the future allow procrastination and even denial.

•  People think differently about potential losses and potential gains. The psychologists say climate activists would do better if they stressed the potential gains of responding proactively to a changing climate.

•  Appealing to people's intrinsic motivation to promote well-bring may be more effective than encouraging a certain kind of extrinsic pro-environmental behavior. It is the difference of being a steward instead of environmental policeman of your own world.

Tania Lombrozo, a psychology professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who wrote the NPR commentary, said, "Climate change is often presented as an abstract, uncertain cost, distant in space and time, and requiring external incentives to motivate individual action. Psychological research suggests this is an especially dangerous combination, sure to make people underestimate the risk and unlikely to compel them to action."

"Instead, policymakers and science communicators might do well to focus on the concrete manifestations of climate change in our own experience, the consequences of warming that are affecting our communities here and now, and the ways our current actions can be tied to gains, rather than losses," she counsels.

One of Lombrozo's most compelling points is that it may take advances in cognitive science, rather than climate science, to stimulate a muscular response to global warming. "It's time to recognize the critical role for the social sciences," she writes, "in dealing with global warming, an issue that certainly ought to be a top priority for the President and Congress." 

Americans Warming Up to Climate Change

Happy Earth Day. It seems after the past year of harsh weather, a majority of Americans now believe climate change is really happening.

A poll released this week shows, according to The New York Times, “that a large majority of Americans believe this year’s unusually warm winter, last year’s blistering summer and some other weather disasters were probably made worse by global warming. And by a 2-to-1 margin, the public says the weather has been getting worse, rather than better, in recent years.”

Yale University’s Project on Climate Change Communications, along with researchers from George Mason University, sponsored the survey, which was conducted by Knowledge Networks. More than 1,000 American adults were surveyed by computer in the last half of March, with a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

“The survey, the most detailed to date on the public response to weather extremes, comes atop polling showing a recent uptick in concern about climate change.” the Times reported. “Read together, the polls suggest that direct experience of erratic weather may be convincing some people that the problem is no longer just a vague and distant threat.”

The poll suggests that:

A solid majority of the public believes that global warming is real. “When invited to agree or disagree with the statement, “global warming is affecting the weather in the United States,” 69 percent of respondents in the new poll said they agreed, while 30 percent disagreed.”

• One quarter of respondents “strongly agree” recent warm weather was affected by climate change. “Asked whether they agreed or disagreed that global warming had contributed to the unusually warm winter just past, 25 percent of the respondents said they strongly agreed that it had, and 47 percent said they somewhat agreed. Only 17 percent somewhat disagreed and 11 percent strongly disagreed.”

• A majority believes global warming caused the 2011 heat wave. “Majorities almost as large cited global warming as a likely factor in last year’s record summer heat wave, as well as the 2011 drought in Texas and Oklahoma. Smaller but still substantial majorities cited it as a factor in the record U.S. snowfalls of 2010 and 2011 and the Mississippi River floods of 2011.”

More than one-third say they were directly affected by bad weather. “One of the more striking findings was that 35 percent of the public reported being affected by extreme weather in the past year. The United States was hit in 2011 by a remarkable string of disasters affecting virtually every region, including droughts, floods, tornadoes and heat waves.”’

The survey’s results are encouraging for a large majority of climate scientists. They say the “climate is shifting in ways that could cause serious impacts, and they cite the human release of greenhouse gases as a principal cause,” said the Times.