It is something akin to an article of faith that white senior citizens are the backbone of the GOP–that they will troop reliably to the polls to support the Grand Old Party even as it regresses into an anti-reason, anti-science cult. It is overwhelmingly my age cohort (aka “old farts”) that watches Faux News, votes religiously (in both senses of that word), and constitutes the loyal and irreplaceable base of the Republican Party.
I have resigned myself to the probability that improvements in American political life won’t occur until the over-65 generation dies off. Of course, that inconveniently includes me, but hey–it is what it is. I routinely apologize to my students for the mess my generation is bequeathing them.
But then I read this! Is it possible?
Carville-Greenberg, the Democratic polling operation, has recently reported growing disaffection with the GOP among the elderly.
We first noticed a shift among seniors early in the summer of 2011, as Paul Ryan’s plan to privatize Medicare became widely known (and despised) among those at or nearing retirement. Since then, the Republican Party has come to be defined by much more than its desire to dismantle Medicare. To voters from the center right to the far left, the GOP is now defined by resistance, intolerance, intransigence, and economics that would make even the Robber Barons blush. We have seen other voters pull back from the GOP, but among no group has this shift been as sharp as it is among senior citizens.
According to Carville-Greenberg, seniors voted for Republicans by a 21 point margin (38 percent to 59 percent) in 2010, but among seniors likely to vote in 2014, the generic Republican candidate leads by just 5 points (41 percent to 46 percent.) Seventy-one percent of seniors disapprove of the Republicans in Congress. Only 28% of seniors view the GOP favorably, down from 43% in 2010. During that same period of time, seniors’ approval of Democrats actually rose three points, from 37% to 40%.
More than half (55 percent) of seniors say the Republican Party is too extreme, half (52 percent) say it is out of touch, and half (52 percent) say the GOP is dividing the country. Just 10 percent of seniors believe that the Republican Party does not put special interests ahead of ordinary voters.
These numbers, if accurate, reflect a sea change in a constituency that has been the GOP’s most dependable voting bloc.
Evidently, when a party gets crazy enough, even its most loyal foot-soldiers begin to notice.