Older Americans’ Power at the Ballot Box

The role of seniors in every election is important, and their collective participation is powerful. First, in a close election, every vote counts.  Second, despite their differences, seniors are able to come together and defend their interests by contacting their elected officials, donating money, and voting. There is no doubt that seniors will continue to make their voices heard and play an active role in shaping the policies that directly affect them and the country as a whole.

Here is what they faced on November 8 at the very important 2022 midterm election: thirty-six governor’s races; a tied US Senate; a nearly even US House of Representatives; and thousands of state and local officials on ballots across the country. (They were still counting votes as I was writing this.)

Older voters have historically voted in greater numbers than any other age group. “Election after election, Americans aged fifty and older cast the majority of ballots,” says Nancy LeaMond, executive vice president of AARP, the country’s largest nonprofit, nonpartisan organization for seniors. “Older Americans understand the importance of exercising their right to vote. They are concerned about a host of issues that affect their daily lives and the future of their children and grandchildren.”

Saul Anuzis, former Michigan Republican Party chairman and the president of “60 Plus”—an organization positioned as the conservative policy alternative to AARP—wrote this: “Seniors are the most loyal voting demographic in America, and they tend to vote conservative.” Their numbers are also growing by 0.4 percent annually — from 17 percent of the population in 2020 to a projected 21 percent by 2030.

The overall political activity of senior citizens has been increasing since the 1971 White House Conference on Aging and the creation of Social Security. As the number of older Americans who rely on Social Security as their main source of income has increased, so has their participation in the political process. When a person’s health and livelihood are so heavily dependent on government assistance in the form of Social Security and Medicare, voting becomes much more than a mere exercise in civic duty; it can make a very tangible difference in one’s quality of life.

In her book, How Policies Make Citizens: Senior Political Activism and the American Welfare State, Andrea Campbell shows how the development of Social Security helped transform seniors from the most beleaguered to the most politically active age group. While older voters may be diverse, they are still willing to unite, when necessary, to safeguard their common interests and ultimately shape policy.

Who are these older voters? The largest and most influential group comprises the Baby Boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964. Last year, the youngest Boomers turned fifty-seven, and the oldest celebrated their seventy-fifth birthdays. From now until 2030, every day, more than ten thousand of them will turn sixty-five. They are the largest and most powerful generation in American history, and what they care about matters. They dominate cultural and political institutions and make up 49 percent of the electorate.

Kevin Munger, a professor at Penn State University, and author of “Generation Gap: Why the Baby Boomers Still Dominate American Politics and Culture says “The Baby Boomer generation has maintained extraordinary power and influence throughout the course of its existence.” For many within this age group, one thing that matters is being able to pass on a viable future to their children and grandchildren. This means supporting policies that tackle such issues as the economy, climate change, and healthcare reform.