Columnist Sid Salter says as the demographic and generational landscape changes, expect public support for bedrock issues to begin to change right along with them.
Mississippi’s August 8 primary elections may well mark the last statewide primaries that won’t be significantly influenced by demographic and generational impacts on voter behavior and partisan outcomes on key issues.
That is not to say that one can infer from Tuesday’s outcomes that seismic partisan shifts are eminent in November or even in the next courthouse-to-statehouse election cycle. But as the demographic and generational landscape changes, expect public support for bedrock issues to begin to change right along with them.
A review of the demographic/generational divisions might be in order. So, the Greatest Generation (those born between 1901 and 1927), those who lived through World War I and fought World War II and survived the Great Depression, are a benchmark for traditional American values.
Next came the so-called Silent Generation (born 1928 to 1945), traditionalists who shared many of the traits of the Greatest Generation, but were known for holding very conservative financial views, having a strong work ethic and were not dependent on technology.
Then came my generation, the Baby Boomers (born 1946 to 1964). Baby Boomers are the children of television, optimistic and industrious but prone to divorce and a distrust of government marked by the Vietnam War and Watergate. Boomers range in age from 59 to 77, so Social Security, Medicare and other healthcare issues are top of mind.
Generation X or Gen X (born 1965 to 1980) are the first generation to grow up with computers, more ethnically diverse than Boomers and generally have views that are more liberal than their elders. This generation greatly values work-life balance. In recent years, this generation is polling more conservative and Republican.
Millennials (born between 1981 to 1996) are ages 26 to 41 and the largest population group. They are the largest component of the American workforce and paying the freight on the future of Social Security and Medicare. By 2048, they are estimated to become 39 percent of the U.S. electorate. They are the most educated generation in Western history and women tend to outperform Millennial men. Millennials are tech-savvy and tech-dependent and skew liberal and Democratic in their views.
Generation Z or Gen Z (born 1997 to 2012) are ages 18 to 25) and are decidedly more liberal than Millennials or Gen Xers. The latest group, Generation A or “Plurals” (born 2013 to the present) as some call them, will be the last American generation to see a Caucasian majority. They believe in diversity. They are fluent with electronic devices and connectivity through social media. While there is yet no voting behavior to judge, this generation is believed to be skeptical of their accessibility to the “American Dream.”
How does that translate into changing Mississippi politics? I love the Neshoba County Fair and traditional political outreach – as a Boomer would – but the majority of candidate outreach in the just-completed primary election came from social media, direct mail, TV/radio broadcast or texts. There was little debate or discussion of substantive issues, but plenty of fearmongering, half-truths and innuendoes masquerading as factual information.
People have griped for decades about scorched-earth political ads, but younger generations have simply moved that kind of fare from the airwaves to social media and group texts.
In the near future, Millennials, Gen Z and Plural voters are expected to be far less moved by political rhetoric tied to race, class, or blind partisan allegiance. The storied “third rail” of politics – Social Security and Medicare – will likely be viewed differently by voters in those groups as they struggle with more Boomers receiving benefits from those programs that they will be paying into while employed.
Education will remain a core value for Millennials, but they will see certificates in specialized fields of technology as increasingly valid and necessary. Expect work-life balance issues to find their way into the mainstream political debate along with increasing attention to parks, playgrounds and accessible green space.
The partisan pendulum still heavily favors the GOP in Mississippi, but that pendulum still swings as it has in the past and almost certainly will again in the future.