History as Determing Ideology

I will bore you with one more factoid about the election. Joel Kotkin writes that the Democratic Party won almost 60 percent of the 30-44 vote but lost the under 30 vote by 53 to 44 percent.

This got me thinking about how historical events during our formative years might form ideology.

Scott Walker was born in 1967. Paul Ryan was born in 1970. I was born in 1980. According to most sources, we are all part of Generation X. In a lot of ways I feel more in common with people born in the late 60s and early 70s than I do with people born between 1988-1992. I recognize their culture, I remember what life was like before the Internet and Mobile Phones were common plus I recognize their cultural markings more. A 22 year old co-worker once shocked me by not knowing a song that came out when I was in high school. If you care, the song was I’m Only Happen When It Rains by Garbage.

Paul Ryan and Scott Walker both talk about how important Reagan’s 1980 election was for their political education and identification. This makes sense. Their formative years was spent during the 1980s with lots of talk about Communism as the Evil Empire and the shining success of 80s that followed the general blah to bad economics of the 1970s.

I have no fond memories of Reagan. I barely have any memories of him at all because I wasn’t even in kindergarten when he was reelected in 1984. I am cognizant of some elements of the Bush I vs. Dukakis election but mainly from reading about them as an adult. The first Presidential election that I really remember is Clinton and then people in my cohort entered the job market during the first tech bust and after the 9/11 recession. We spent most of the aughts in a recession and are still struggling with the fiscal crisis as caused by Bush. I think this explains why the 30-44 set leans heavily Democratic.

Anyone have a guess about why the under 30 set went Republican? I can’t imagine they are more socially conservative than the 30-44 set.

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59 thoughts on “History as Determing Ideology

  1. My understanding is that turnout for the under-30 set was absolutely abysmal. So my guess is that the under-30 set is no more conservative as a whole than the 30-44 contingent–if anything, even more liberal. It’s just that only a small percentage of the under-30 set voted, and the ones who did vote skewed disproportionately conservative.

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  2. I will bore you with one more factoid about the election. Joel Kotkin writes that the Democratic Party won almost 60 percent of the 30-44 vote but lost the under 30 vote by 53 to 44 percent.

    That very different from what the CNN exit polls say.

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  3. Sometimes building large, complex narratives based entirely on two data points (two incorrect data points, in this case apparently) is a bad idea. Other times, Hell has frozen over.

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  4. For the under-30’s, Obama was their first election. They not only turned out to vote, they talked their parents into voting for Obama instead of Clinton.

    And then what happened happened. They’re the generations screwed by the economic collapse; the generation left holding the bag. They’re the generation ‘living in their parents’ basements.’

    I think maybe they thought things would change if they just voted, they voted, and hey presto, things aren’t really all that different than they were before; maybe they’re a bit worse off. So why bother? (That’s what I got from talking to my children and their friends under 30, anyway.) They will have to learn the hard way that politics is a slog, a life-ling commitment, not a hit-and-run vote.

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    • That is the same message I got from my son, who asked his friends.
      And I think you hit on the reason that many people turn away from politics, its just to long a commitment for many people to stay seriously engaged with.

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    • With the exception of my high school graduation in 1998, I’ve always graduated into a recession with few jobs or prospects for new graduates. My college graduation was filled with lots of economic jitters. My grad school graduation was at the start of the fiscal crisis and great recession and then I graduated law school in 2011 which might have been the worst year to graduate law school in recent history if not forever.

      I don’t blame Obama or the Democratic Party for any of this.

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      • I didn’t say they blame the Democratic party or Obama; I don’t think they do. I think they just feel that the political system is broken. If I had to parse it more, I’d lay probably look at it from the perspective of a generation raised in the self-esteem movement, where they were valued for simply being, without enough emphasis placed on effort and achievement. As a parent in that era, I was as guilty of this as anyone; and I still spend a good deal of time and effort counteracting that irresponsible parenting tic.

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      • No kidding. When the 20-somethings couldn’t find work that paid a living wage, they went back to school, taking on more debt to build up their skills for jobs that never materialized, and so they stayed in their parents basement.

        Look, my generation — the over ’50’s, profited enormously from the housing boom. And we screwed them, screwed them big time. I don’t particularly blame them for thinking our political system’s a sham and staying home.

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      • ‘The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.’

        Change has always been long, slow, grueling and hard. I think a generation has been a bit spoiled considering that Bush II was able to use SSM as a wedge issue in 2004 to the status of SSM today. That quickness in change is pretty unprecedented.

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      • Well, first of all if the discussion is a vote between Clinton and Obama, we’re talking liberal voters. And second, it happened to me. And third, there was much written about this at the time. And fourth, Obama, not Clinton, became the Democratic nominee.

        So not such an extraordinary claim.

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  5. I read Kotkin’s post he got his data from NBC news and apparently was only talking about white voters. The problem is “RACE BY AGE” section on the NBC website provides totals that are clearly false, for example at claims that Republicans got 58% of the vote from black voters 30-44 while Democrats got 64% of whites 65+.

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  6. Well, I was born in 1960 so I grew up watching Walter Cronkite on a black and white TV tell me how many troops died in Vietnam that day. I remember crowding into the principal’s office (very small school) to hear the Vice President resign over corruption charges, and how we all cheered. Shortly thereafter, Nixon did the same to avoid impeachment.

    Then I went to high school. With a picture of a guy who had never been elected president… on the wall as my President. I can remember still doing the same duck-and-cover drills we had been doing since grade school and joking about kissing our asses goodbye (On the floor, head between your knees, arms over your head. Like that’s gonna help…).

    I tried pot. I liked it. A lot.

    I had to register for the draft when I turned eighteen. I could still vividly remember ole Uncle Walter and his nightly death count. So when I filled out the form I wrote “I am registering under protest” along the bottom. Dad saw it and got mad at me because he was afraid the government would do… something… not specified, but something really bad to me. So I “fixed” it, turned it in, and went somewhere to get high. Seemed like the thing to do at the time. I understand now, of course, that he just loved me.

    Then Uncle Ronnie was elected President and shortly thereafter one of my favorite escapes from reality became a felony.

    Can events shape ideology? I dunno… maybe.

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    • To be fair your favorite escapes from reality were probably illegal while doing them but uncle Ronnie upper the War on Some Drugs.

      Of course events can shape ideology but I am just really curious about how all of this is almost like destiny then and really inescapable. Some generations seem destined to be liberal and others conservative just based on the random chaos of when they were born and what happened during their formative years.

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      • Actually, research on twins (identical and fraternal, raised together or separately) pegs the genetic contribution to political orientation at between 40 to 60%. There’s also a significant contribution from birth order with the older sibling(s) tending to be more conservative. Finally, the prevalence of conservatism increases slowly as a cohort ages but there’s a significant jump when one becomes a parent.

        Like a lot of things, it’s a combination of nature and nurture.

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      • Heh, that wasn’t clear. Only the first stat was from twin studies. The birth order thing was in normal families where mom isn’t some over-achiever trying to get all the baby-making done at one go. ;)

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      • Actually, research on twins (identical and fraternal, raised together or separately) pegs the genetic contribution to political orientation at between 40 to 60%.

        The only twin study on political orientation that I know is the Settle et al. study from 2009, which was done at a festival, only compared MZ and DZ twins, and didn’t look at separately adopted pairs. It’s obviously a preliminary study, and drawing any strong conclusions from it is a bad idea. Best to just say, “There is some evidence that political orientation may have a genetic component, but this is an area of ongoing research in its preliminary stages.”

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      • Chris,

        Alford, Funk and Hibbing, 2005, American Political Science Review, “Are Political Orientations Genetically Transmitted.”

        They used two data sets distinct from the festival set–one from Virginia and a more limited one from Australia. But I think they also only compared DZ and MZ, and not adopted twins.

        Still, three discrete data sets all supporting the same conclusion, while not dispositive, is pretty strongly suggestive.

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      • James, oh man, Table 1 in that paper is fascinating, and suggests that there’s something complex going on (note that party membership’s heritability is pretty low, while certain issues show moderate heritability numbers), though the numbers are all pretty moderate. I imagine that as this gets fleshed out, the mediators are going to be pretty clear and important.

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      • Chris,

        I’m more familiar with the research’s existence than the research itself, and I’ve never read it that closely. I did see that party affiliation isn’t that heritable, and that makes sense. It makes sense to me that there’d be heritability in general dispositions at some level, the main question being how much and, as you suggest, what mediates it.

        But, yeah, table 1’s interesting. Superficially there seems to be a higher correlation on issues that are generally of higher salience than those of lower salience. If so, I wonder what underlies that.

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      • Party ideology might not be inheritable in a genetic sense but I wonder how many people become Democratic because their family was always Democratic or become Republican because their family was always Republican.

        I didn’t grow up in a super-politicized household* but I knew that we were always Democratic and I identified as Democratic pretty early on without really thinking about it. I think there must be people on the Republican side who did the same thing.

        *I don’t remember my parents talking about politics as a small-child but I do seem to remember knowing that they always voted Democratic.

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      • I actually grew up thinking my parents were both conservative Republicans. Turns out that only one of them was, while the other just okay with Reagan and Bush and hated Clinton passionately. He was a district delegate for Obama in 2008.

        With regard to sibling order, it holds in my family. I’m easily the least conservative.

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      • In my family, the oldest (me) and youngest are the least conservative (my youngest brother is a politically active environmentalist), with two in the middle being basically moderately liberal.

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  7. I was born in 1965 so i graduated high school in 1983. I remember the 70’s in all its insantiy. I remember Carter poliically but Ronnie was the first prez i was realling paying attention to. Growing up when the Cold War and the Soviet Union were things, hot proxy wars were fought all over the world and AIDS became known. What does that mean to me now. Well it’s hard for me to take the pants pissing fear of the massive epidemic of Eblola sweeping over the country seriously. Not that Ebola isn’t’ serious and really deadly in Africa but the fear mongering is off the scales. ISIS, yeah serious douche bags the world would be better off without, but none of that is new. We’ve seen their like and worse. Same with most of the other foreign problems we are seeing. Definitely bad, especially for the people involved, but pretty much typical of the world.

    One would think if people had a grasp of history or weren’t so susceptible to fear mongering they might be able to hold themselves together.

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    • I’ve said to undergraduates before that I grew up within bombing range of DC being told by adults that the chances were about 50/50 that the largest country on earth would use its nuclear weapons on us, so somehow 50 mutants in a cave in Pakistan with box cutters doesn’t keep me up at night. I think I might have put that more diplomatically though.

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  8. If you care, the song was I’m Only Happy When It Rains by Garbage.

    Doesn’t ring a bell. Off to YouTube…

    Nope. Definitely never heard it.

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  9. I had a similar experience with the youngsters at work as they discussed what’s the most annoying pop song they can remember.
    Me: Hey, but Tom’s Diner, that was super annoying, am I right?
    (Silence)
    Me: Duh duh duh duh duh duh duh duh???

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  10. I wouldn’t read much into this. First, it’s only white voters under 30 that Democrats lost by that margin, which is still better than they did with white voters as a whole. Second, Democrats still won voters under 30 overall by 13 points. This is only slightly less than their margin in 2010 – around 16 points – amongst younger voters, even as it’s substantially less than their margins in 2006 and 2008. It’s still a lot better than their margins between 1996 and 2004, during which Democrats never won under 30 voters by more than 10 points, and functionally tied the GOP (2 point margin or less) in all but one election. If we go back to ’94, the Democrats actually lost the youth vote that year.

    Especially given that this was a midterm, I don’t think there’s anything to read into other than that the Democrats’ unprecedented dominance in the youth demographic between 2006 and 2012 is returning to more historical levels.

    http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2010/11/07/weekinreview/20101107-detailed-exitpolls.html?_r=0

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  11. Especially given that this was a midterm, I don’t think there’s anything to read into other than that the Democrats’ unprecedented dominance in the youth demographic between 2006 and 2012 is returning to more historical levels.

    Pretty much this. Alsotoo, Republicans did not talk very much about rape in this election cycle.

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    • I dunno, the huge drop in turnout makes it really hard to draw off-the-cuff conclusions. I’m not saying the youth vote shifted because liberals stayed home and conservatives didn’t, but I can’t say it didn’t happen either.

      A shift in voting patterns OR a biased turnout would both explain the change, but the only evidence I’ve got for one over the other is the fact that the overall turnout seemed better among conservative demographics which is suggestive but hardly conclusive.

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  12. My earliest memories are of Bush I and then Clinton. I was just shy of 18 when Bush went up for re-election in 1992 (and I would have voted for him), but voted for Clinton in 1996.

    So my formative political memories are basically a never-ending parade of Clinton conspiracy theories, ending in a farcical impeachment. I admit, that has colored my perception of the GOP.

    Of course, I also lived in Tom Delay’s district in Texas, so I was watching the modern GOP being born in Texas — between Bush II and Tom Delay, Texas has had outsized influence on the shape and aims of the pre Tea-Party GOP, at least, even as my area slowly turned more liberal.

    I didn’t turn firmly Democratic until we invaded Iraq after 9/11. I didn’t vote for Bush II because he’d done a crap job of Governor, not because I was enamored of Gore or particularly partisan at that point. The whole…attitude…that solidified around the invasion of Iraq, up to and including that ridiculous flight suit incident, just…

    Eh. I got real cynical about the media, too. REAL cynical. It was pretty obvious they they were 100% onboard with Iraq because war sells eyeballs. Any illusions I had about journalistic integrity went down the toilet.

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    • Just to add — I don’t find the Democrats to be saints (the only thing positive thing I can say about the Iraq invasion was Gore wouldn’t have done it, but the Democrats happily got browbeaten into supporting it so that’s only slightly less upsetting). But I’ve got two real choices, and the GOP has danced on the ashes of the bridges it’s burned — everything from gay rights to cynical war mongering.

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  13. Born in 79. Only started any particular attention to politics in the USA when I was half way through Clinton’s term. Watched the GOP do their GOP thing, was utterly flabbergasted that Gore* lost. But really it was very straight forward for me. The Dems tolerated and increasingly accepted gays (for various reasons) and the GOP was the party that wanted them to cease to exist. It’ll take some incredible shifts for me to ever consider pulling a level for the GOP.

    *I will never forgive him for that.

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  14. I feel like I should point out that, according to CNN, not only did young white people go Republican 54% to 43%, but young *black people* voted 49%/49%. This is clearly completely insane.

    There are two options here: Either there was some sort of *massive* swing towards the Republicans among young people that somehow has gone undetected in general polling. Or, much more likely, this was a midterm, and, as always, Democrats didn’t vote, and that applies to the young Democrats more than older Democrats.

    Well, except young Latino Democrats, who did apparently vote. Don’t know what happened there.

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    • but young *black people* voted 49%/49%.

      One election does not a trend make but wasn’t one of the things people said about the first African-American President that the effects from his presidency might be comparable to how Irish Catholics voted prior to Kennedy with how they voted after him?

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    • This data can’t possibly be right. I don’t mean “can’t be right because it doesn’t conform to my assumptions.” I mean “doesn’t work mathematically.”

      Here’s the full tally from which this number is originally pulled:

      http://www.nbcnews.com/politics/elections/2014/US/house/exitpoll

      You’ll notice that according to this data, black voters overall supported Democrats 89-11, well in line with the trends of the last couple of decades.

      But then look at the numbers for “Race by Age,” including but not limited to the 49-49 calculation referred to here. You’ll see that in no age cohort do the statistics show Democrats receiving more than 49 percent of the black vote.

      Obviously it’s not possible for 89 percent of black voters to vote for the Democrat, but less than 50% of black voters to do so in any age cohort.

      The “Race by Age” figures also indicate that black voters between 45-64 made up 32 percent of the electorate and voted 62-36 for Republicans. Needless to say, that’s not even remotely possible on any level.

      The only conclusion is that the “Race by Age” calculations are totally wrong. Looking more closely, my guess is that they severely mixed up the “Race by Age” calculations – the numbers for black voters between 45-64 are almost certainly the numbers for white voters 45-64. The numbers for Latino voters 45-64 are almost certainly the numbers for black voters 45-64. The numbers for black voters 30-44 are almost certainly the numbers for white voters 30-44, and the numbers for white voters 30-44 are probably for Latino 30-44, with Latino 30-44 being black 30-44. Etc., etc.

      About the only “Race by Age” number that looks accurate is the number for whites 18-29.

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    • Remember, exit polls are only slightly more reliable than pre-election polls. They survey the actual voters, not those who claim to be likely voters, but they have all the errors of survey data, including the assumptions that flesh them out.

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  15. It was 2002 and I was in my third year as Mayor of Edmonds,UL 1694, a charming,AWS D18.1/D18.1M, seaside town in Washington. Our not so neighborly county to the south was suggesting that they would like to build their state of the art sewage treatment plant in our city. Never mind that we had our own. Food and Drink Signs: Budweiser,UL 101, Heineken,UL 1776, Corona. We all know of these popular beer brands,AWS D1.1, moreover,AWS A5.36/A5.36M, these are brands whose signboards we’ve seen everywhe

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  16. A 22 year old co-worker once shocked me by not knowing a song that came out when I was in high school. If you care, the song was I’m Only Happen When It Rains by Garbage.

    Maybe if you got the title right, they would have recognized the song ;)

    In all seriousness, though, it’s not like your co-worker didn’t recognize “In My Life”. Garbage hasn’t had a hit since the aforementioned song and “Stupid Girl”. They have fallen into the abyss with those alternative-rock bands that were popular 20 years ago. Much like Sublime, who had this great lyric, which resonates to this day:

    If it wasn’t for date rape I’d never get laid.

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