Your birth year and your political alignment are correlated

Birth Year Political Alignment

Was talking with my friend on the phone on Sunday and we were discussing the possibility of doing some type of podcast, or video podcast, or some other endeavor/initiative in 2015. This particular friend has a ton of different ideas about society and the world and where we’re headed and he’s an interesting guy, so I generally enjoy the conversations. In this one, we got around to a pretty conventional line of thinking: when you’re younger, you tend to be more liberal/Democratic. When you’re older, you tend to be more conservative/Republican; the theory holds that this happens as you get more responsibility in life (family, job, etc.) and want to protect those things — which conservative thinking is probably better for.

My dad basically espoused that theory to me like 100-120 times during my childhood, and I’m pretty sure that with the exception of 1984, my dad has always voted Democratic. (By 1980, he was already 40, so the theory he was espousing was basically not representative of his own life whatsoever.)

How can we figure out if there’s some type of correlation between birth year and political alignment?

Same way we figure everything out in 2015: BIG DATA, BABY!!!

Here’s a post from The New York Times’ Upshot blog; it has interactive elements that I probably can’t successfully embed on my little slice of blogging heaven, so click there for some fun stuff around your birth year.

Here’s the general idea, though:

Birth Year and Political Influence

What happens after 40 is of less significance in shaping your political views; what happens around 18 — when you’re presumably leaving home for the first time, etc. — is about three times more important than what happens later in life. I guess that’s right. I think I started thinking of myself as liberal around late HS / early college. I think it was mostly because, even though I come from a rich area (Upper East Side), I myself was never really rich. I always thought the line was about earnings. As I got older, I realized that’s not entirely right — although that’s a way to define it.

This is some interesting shit, though. Check this out. If you were born in 1941, here’s your perceived political alignment arc throughout life:

1941 Birth Political Alignment

See how it leans Republican because, probably, of the success of Eisenhower in your teen years?

Now look at this for a person born in 1952:

1952 Birth Political Alignment

See how that leans Democratic, in large part because you “came of age” under Kennedy and LBJ?

So think about that — someone born in 1941 (many of whom are still alive) and someone born in 1952 (ditto) have vastly different political leanings throughout life, simply because of the political context of America as they came of age?

Silent Generation (1941) and Boomers (1952) are thus, per this research, almost entirely different sets of people. Odd, right?

A caveat here, though: my dad was born in 1940, and he’s white. (Most of this research applies better to white people; African-Americans have been solidly Democratic for generations, in the broadest sense.) My dad’s curve is very different than that 1941 curve above; like I said, he predominantly votes Democratic. I think the only GOP candidate he’s voted for in a Presidential was Reagan in 1984, and I might even be wrong about that. (Mondale, baby!)

That’s all a personal way of saying this research could be junk, but it’s interesting to consider nonetheless — two white men, born 11 years apart (a mere grain of sand in historical terms), could basically see the political spectrum in massively different ways.

This is all just another example that the shift we made from Eisenhower to Kennedy is still explaining America today.

Ted Bauer


  1. I don’t believe the research is junk as much as incomplete data. If all you needed was birth year, based on assumptions about financial wealth, then what happens to people whose fortunes go bad? Women as a group have more power during their years of fertility, but those without partners or families get poorer as they age. Do they vote more Democratic too? Do large economic swings cause people to change their voting habits, or do they double-down? There is an age-related resistance to change (or fear of change) as we become less physically able. That would support more conservative views. Why people vote the way they do is a complex question. I don’t think anyone has figured it out entirely, or they would be able to rack up wins all the time. I had fun thinking about it when reading this.

    • It is truly a complex question that people have been stabbing at for generations; maybe I was naive to present it like there’s any “one” answer. There’s not.

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