Older Voters Rule


New Orleans        For all of the kvetching about how long in the tooth both Biden and Trump are as they head for the November showdown in the upcoming election, we may be missing the point that they aren’t the only oldies out there – the electorate is also historically aged.  In the US, more than half of eligible voters are older, with only 48.5% of them being millennials or Gen-Z voters.  In some countries, the odds favoring more senior voters and the programs that benefit them are even better, so we shouldn’t be surprised that it’s happening here, too.

Take the recent elections in South Korea, which leads the global birthrate and population replacement conundrum.  Voters over 60 there are 32% of the electorate with voters under 40 only 31%.  In more and more of advanced economies, older people are hanging on longer and longer, and younger people are having fewer and fewer babies.  Heck, ten of the largest countries in the world are all led by leaders over 70 now, when “three-score and ten” used to be everyone’s longevity goal, not simply a milepost that gets a handwave as you trudge through the years.

In a Wall Street Journal piece on this issue, a couple of researchers were quoted as saying “If you look at what Congress has done…they continue to spend, reinforce and help programs for senior citizens at the expense of doing something dramatic for younger people…”  I’m not sure exactly what this hardly-do-anything-Congress is doing for seniors given their opposition to early and mail voting, increased eligibility for Medicaid or extension of dental benefits for any health program, the continuing opposition by many of the mossbacks to the Affordable Care Act, and more, but the point is well taken, that they also are not stepping up for younger people either.

There was a story recently, for example, about an Italian province that has maintained its population and birthrate, even as the country’s is plummeting, and has done so by providing a suite of benefits and support for families.  In the US, it is crazy that we don’t have mandatory, paid parental leave and realistic governmental support with both centers and subsidies for daycare.  We also do precious little in Congress to convince younger people that the institution and tax dollars will assure them a livable and secure climate when they are seniors thirty, forty, or fifty years from now.

The same Journal story quotes a German researcher arguing that the principle of “one person, one vote” needs to be “rethought” as seniors continue to dominate the electorate.  He asks, “…who is democracy for, and how can democracy really reform itself?”  It’s a good question even if the notion of differently weighted votes is politically a nonstarter.  The answer to his question though is the classic one that power concedes nothing without struggle, and that takes not apathy and withdrawal, but organization and participation.

One way or another, change is coming.  Younger people need to get on with making it happen.