Age and Voting, and Birth Control

It just so happens that this week has already brought two wicked cool charts for those of us who like to theorize about age and voting. Yesterday, the New York Times put up a super-nifty interactive chart that lets you see how every age cohort of white Americans, by birth year, has voted in every presidential election. Today, as part of its new issue, Commonwealth Magazine shows the current voter registration breakdown by party, for every age from 18 to 95+.

There are obvious differences, but together they point to something similar. Republicans have a better hold on those born before 1946; do very poorly among those born between 1946 and 1954; increasingly do best among those born between 1955 and about 1978; and poorly again with those born more recently. Democrats basically mirror that trend, except with those choosing not to formally identify with either party carving an increasing amount into the blue side over time.

It’s not tough to see that these dates correspond to the pre-Baby Boom generations, the core Baby Boomers, the late Baby Boomers and Gen-X, and the Millennials/Gen-Y/Gen-Next or however we’ll end up divvying the generations born from the late 1970s on.

Basically, by my grand theory of things, we’re all still divided by the social and cultural upheaval of the ’60s and ’70s: black civil rights, sexual revolution, women’s liberation, anti-war protests, drug culture, white flight/urban crime, gay rights, welfare expansion, and so on.

Those who opposed or resented any of these changes ultimately found their home in the Republican Party—white pre-Boomers mainly (think Archie Bunker and most of the men on Mad Men) and some patriarchal white Boomers (think of Mitt Romney counter-protesting the peace protesters at Stanford). Those leading the change found their way to the Democratic Party. Then, the male children of the resentful white pre-Boomers grew up to be Republicans, internalizing all of the resentments.

Which leaves us today with a Republican Party dominated by cranky middle-aged men fighting the last vestiges of the battles of the ’60s and ’70s—often without realizing they are doing so.

For instance, we just had two Supreme Court decisions that could be seen as quite reasonable tinkering around the proper balance of conflicting rights: the Planned Parenthood and Hobby Lobby decisions.

In the Planned Parenthood case (McCullen v. Coakley), there are reasonable concerns about protecting First Amendment rights. You want to be able to stand outside a store and politely inform people, and hand out literature warning them, that the products inside were made by enslaved children, or whatever. The Supreme Court majority thought the balance in the Massachusetts statute was a little off (or that other remedies had not been sufficiently pursued) and should be reworked.

Similarly, the Hobby Lobby case, essentially, took the Supreme Court-endorsed notion of corporate personhood and tried to find the particular limits of those rights in one area. Legislative fixes will have to be found for the resulting lapses of coverage.

In both cases, while I disagree with the Court’s conclusions, they could both be seen as suggestions to find other ways to accomplish the basic goal, with a little less intrusion on some other right.

But in the real world, of course, the resentful conservatives treated both cases as if they were fighting the sexual revolution all over again. Rather than talking about the balancing act of rights in contention, they acted like—well, like they were still trying to overturn Griswold v. Connecticut, Eisenstadt v. Baird, and Roe v. Wade.

That doesn’t sit very well with those who were on the other side of those battles—most notably born-in-1953 Martha Coakley—or with those born since the late 1970s who don’t remember a world before those battles were won.

Democrats here in Massachusetts have pounced on these two Supreme Court decisions, and are trying to stoke some voter enthusiasm from them—none more so than Coakley, who is speaking at a big rally planned for this afternoon. Dems can read those fancy charts.

But they should also be wary of overplaying their hand. They did it on a very similar issue in the special election for US Senate in 2010: Scott Brown’s support for the so-called “conscience clause.” The attacks ended up driving a lot of Catholic voters right into Scotto’s arms.