Nov. 5, 2008 – Data from exit polling in
yesterday’s presidential election reveals that senior citizens –
Americans age 65 and older – were the only age group to support the
losing candidate, Sen. John McCann. And, it was by a sizable margin –
53% for McCain and only 45% for the winner, Sen. Barack Obama. It’s not
easy to understand but it was clearly indicated in the polling that lead
up to the election.
The Gallup Poll projected seniors were evenly split
between the two candidates on October 26 – 45% each. Then suddenly, just
two days before the election, McCain took a commanding lead in the
Gallup Poll – 47% to just 42% for Obama.
Then, too, just before the election, the Pew
Research Center released a study of political party preference that
found the Democratic Part has made big gains since 2004. There was,
however, one notable exception - “Only among voters age 65 and older has
the percentage of voters identifying with the Democratic Party decreased
slightly -- from 49% in 2004 to 47% now.”
The Pew analysis said, “This slight decline
reflects the passing of members of the New Deal Generation -- who leaned
overwhelmingly Democratic but who are mostly in their 90s now. In
addition, voters who came of age politically in the Eisenhower
administration, and are now in their late 60s, are closely divided in
their party affiliation.”
But, the answer to why the seniors back McCain is
probably more complicated than that.
They had been voting solidly Democratic, until
Bill Clinton had a 12-point advantage with voters
age 60 and over when he ran against George H.W. Bush. These older voters
favored him by four points over Sen. Bob Dole.
The support for Democrats continued with Sen. Al
Gore receiving 51% of the 60+ vote to George W. Bush’s 47%.
But, a crack appeared in the 2004 election, when
Bush received support from 53% of the 60+ crowd to only 46% for Sen.
John Kerry. It was closer for those 65 and older – 51% for Bush, 48% for
Kerry. CBS and CNN pundits declared older voters won the election for
CBS decided the president's appeal to seniors in
2004 appeared to stem from his positions on social issues, not basic
Twenty-one percent of voters over 60 named moral
values as the issue that mattered most in their vote decision. The
seniors did not like gay marriage or unlimited abortion. Only 16 percent
of seniors supported these issues.
Still, considering this long track record, it
looked in the beginning, like senior citizens would support the Democrat
One of the earliest documentations of trouble for
Obama among senior voters was research released in June by the Pew
Research Center. Even before the Democratic Primary was over, they had
been polling head-to-head choices between Obama and McCain.
In April, McCain had a 44% to 40% lead over Obama
with voters of all ages. But, with seniors, the lead was gigantic – 52%
for McCain and just 42% for Obama.
By May, Obama had taken a slight lead among all
voters – 47% to 44%. But, although the gap had narrowed, he still
trailed McCain with senior citizens – 46% to 43%.
in Southern States Skewed the Results
Dec. 15, 2008 -
Further analysis of the voting pattern indicates the senior
citizens in most of the nation did support Obama but those in
the South were so heavily opposed that it distorted the over-all
report, according to the New York Times.
These two surveys were clear evidence that senior
citizens were not sharing the enthusiasm for Sen. Obama that was being
expressed by younger voters.
Many assumed this was because senior citizens were
so committed to Sen. Hillary Clinton. Seniors were the age group most in
support of the New York senator as she battled Obama for the Democratic
Clinton received a commanding 57% to 37% majority
on Super Tuesday among voters 60 and older. That was even more lopsided
than Obama’s margin among the youngest voters – 57% to 41%.
There was exit polling on Super Tuesday but the Pew
researchers could find no differences on the issues among the Democratic
voters. Their only difference was their candidate choice.
There was more evidence that the seniors were not
happy with Obama in the Gallup polling by age group. In July, only 29%
of seniors favored Obama, compared to 45% for McClain.
The poll was reported weekly and showed a small but
steady gain by Obama with these oldest voters. By the end of September,
it was 47% for McCain and 43% for Obama.
On October 5, Gallup showed Obama going ahead by
one point – 45% to 44%. That held the next week, too. Then, just when it
looked like Obama might widen his lead, there was the sudden shift just
two days before the election with the seniors swinging back into the
So, what happened? Why did these traditional
Democratic voters jump to the Republican?
Was it race? These are the last Americans that went
to segregated schools and lived in a segregated America. They are the
only voters old enough to vividly remember the battle over the Civil
A Harris Poll in September asked them about race
and, although most said it was not a factor in their decision, a large
majority said they thought it was a problem for their friends. The
people polled that were age 63 or older were most likely (61%) to say
their friends would be reluctant to vote for the black candidate.
On the more basic issues, most of what we know
about senior citizens and their politics, would indicate they should
have backed the Democrat.
Most seniors, for example, strongly opposed the
idea of private investment accounts as part of Social Security. It was a
Republican idea backed by Sen. McCain.
Polls indicated years earlier, that the senior
citizens were the first to turn against the Iraq War and to think it was
a mistake. As everyone knows, McCain was a big supporter of the war and
still does not think it was a mistake.
Maybe it was moral issues, as suggested for why
they supported George Bush in 2004.
Again, Obama’s stand on moral issues seems to be
closer to the seniors. He is strong on family values, and opposes gay
marriage. John McCain was married with children when he began an affair
with his current wife – not exactly the type of family life seniors
Maybe it was the age issue – or the reverse of the
age issue. While some voters may have been concerned about McCain’s age,
72, senior citizens may have seen it differently. Just as millions of
black voters rallied to support their fellow African-American, maybe
seniors rallied in support of their fellow senior citizen.
There does not appear to be a clear answer.
Keep up with the latest news for senior citizens, baby