One of the more interesting graphical representations of poll results is produced by the ABC/Washington Post daily tracking poll. It shows the level of support for the President among various demographics and compares that with where it stood four years ago.
Not surprisingly, support for President Obama across virtually every demographic is down from four years before. But there is one demographic that stands out with the sharpest decline–and it is mine.
Americans age 40-49 went from a 49-49 split in 2008 to give Romney a 59-38 advantage today.* Not only is this 21-point swing the largest on the chart, it makes this age cohort the most conservative of any chronological group.
People in their 40s today were born between 1963 and 1972 and we are a product of that age. Our childhood political memories include gas lines, inflation, long recessions, unemployment, a weak American military, and a fearful USSR. Those were the issues of the late-1970s when we were 7 and 17 years old. Along with polaroids of ourselves in plaid polyester and set to a soundtrack of disco (undoubtedly played on an 8-track with an annoying ”jump” in the middle of a song), they weren’t very memorable years.
In our adolescence we had Ataris and Apples, music on CDs, improving economies, stable gas prices, a strong dollar for overseas travel, the death of the Soviet Union, and jobs when we finished college. Dressed in khakis and Izods, our lives under Reagan were significantly better and that was when we came of age.
Consider also what we didn’t have because we either weren’t born or we were too young: the Tet Offensive, Watergate, Martin Luther King’s assassination, urban riots, and discrimination against women and blacks when they searched for jobs. We are more conservative than both our elders who remember the injustice of the 60s and our juniors who never knew how bad Carter was.
But it is not just our cohort that makes us conservative; it is our age. We are in our forties: too young to be old and too old to be young. We are too young to be near enough to Social Security to hope that we can preserve it and too far away from it to think that we can. We are entering our years of peak earnings but we fear that our peaks are in the rear. Our children are bound for college and we wonder how we’ll pay the bills. We are too young for the complacency of nostalgia and too old to live without care.
It is no wonder that we favor Mitt Romney. We have seen better days and worse ones and we know that we can choose which ones to have. We are young enough still to look forward, but not so young that we live only day to day. We are old enough to have acquired some wisdom but not so old to have given some of it back. And we see dismal echoes of Carter in Obama and we remember Reagan ending those years.
* NOTE: The cohort of 40-49 year olds four years ago is not exactly the same people as four years ago; only those born between 1963 and 1968 exist in the 40-49 age group in both years.