Woman Wearing White
Of all the demographic groups in the U.S., Boomers are the most highly prized by politicians - after all, the generation born between 1946 and 1964 represents a staggering 37 percent of the voting-age population.
No single candidate is going to get all the votes of this group, because in some ways they're too different from each other. Depending on age, the Boomer experience stretches across decades, with the oldest having gone through the turmoil of the war in Vietnam and the youngest becoming familiar with government in the age of Reagan. The differences in those experiences can lead to widely varying political views. Mitt Romney, the likely Republican candidate, is 64 and an older Boomer, while his opponent, Barack Obama, 50, is at the younger end of the Boomer spectrum.
But no matter what side Boomers are on, their votes will likely be of disproportionate importance in the coming election. Why? According to the Pew Research Center, 18- to 29-year-olds, who overwhelmingly voted for Barack Obama in 2008, have become disillusioned and less interested in presidential politics since he took office. Just 13 percent of Millennials, as this group is known, have given a lot of thought to the 2012 candidates, down from 28 percent from four years ago, according to Pew research.
If the apathy of those Millennials means they're not going to vote, it could make a big difference in the coming election. Among Boomers, though, 36 percent have given a lot of thought to 2012 candidates, virtually the same percentage as four years ago, and they're likely to make the trip to the voting booth on Nov. 6. The flood of television ads, which will grow stronger in the coming months, will keep the election top of mind, and those ads are going to be directed at Boomers, who watch more TV than any other demographic group.
A fair amount of Boomers' consideration may not favor the Democrats: Exit polls of Boomer voters in 2008 showed that 50 percent supported Obama, while 49 percent backed McCain. But a poll of registered Boomer voters in 2011 showed that support eroding, with 51 percent of voters saying they'd support Mitt Romney, while 45 percent favored Obama.
Another big issue--Medicare--needs to be factored in when thinking about Boomers' ultimate choices in the election. Voters who don't like the idea of liberal social policies or big government may nonetheless be talked into voting for a candidate who seems to promise the same continuing benefits for the staggeringly large entitlement program. (An estimated 1.5 million Boomers are signing up for the program every year, and it stands to reason that they feel more passionately about the issue than voters who are decades younger.)
Unfortunately, experts say, any promise like that would be an empty one. Medicare is going to change whether voters want it to or not, and whether they elect a Democrat or a Republican to the White House. Experts say that the need to control Medicare's annual cost of $500 billion is too urgent to do anything else. But so far, health economist Marilyn Moon told the Huffington Post, "I'm not sure anybody has come up with a formula on this that makes people comfortable."
Social Security is another big area of discomfort among voters: in one Pew survey, 62 percent of Boomers said it was more important to maintain current benefits than to reduce the national budget deficit. But there, too, cuts seem likely no matter who's in office.
Given those views, the candidate who can convince Boomers that he can guard their Medicare and Social Security benefits while reducing the national budget deficit is likely to be the winner. But will Boomers decide the 2012 presidential election? At this point, not even the most expert analysts can say for sure. But combine Boomers' numbers with the passion they feel about issues that directly affect their own lives, and they're a group that's pretty hard to beat.
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