PPA 419 – Aging Services Administration Lecture 3a – The Political and Policy Context of Aging Services
Political Behavior of Older Americans • Source: Steven A. Peterson and Albert Somit • The political behavior of older Americans is of significance mainly because of the growth in size of the older population in the United States during the 21st century as the Baby Boom generation ages.
Political Behavior of Older Americans • Although older Americans are diverse, on average they will have greater education, higher incomes, and better health than in the past. • These factors are associated with greater participation in politics. • Thus, it is thought that in the future, the interests of older Americans will shape politics and public policy to an even greater extent than they do today.
Political Behavior of Older Americans • Authors use data from the 1987 National Opinion Research Center survey (60 and older, 55 and older for African-Americans). • Peterson and Somit use the socioeconomic model of political participation as the baseline. • Education causes civic orientations causes political participation. • They also expand the model to include the effects of age, measures of life circumstances, and other variables.
Caveats • Arbitrariness of age cut-off. • Age-cohort-period effects.
Summary of Previous Research • Participation. • Political interest rises with age. • Voting increases with age. • Other forms of participation increase with age. • Intensity of partisanship increased with age (but results equivocal). • Political attitudes and issue preferences. • No consistent differences on ideology or issue preferences. • No consistent effects on political efficacy. • No consistent effects on political alienation. • The Aged as Voting Bloc or Lobby. • The aged have not coalesced into a voting or lobbying bloc.
Socioeconomic Model: Variables • Independent. • Education, age, gender, race, group memberships. • Dependent. • Ideology: Republican, conservative, tolerant, lifestyle liberalism. • Alienation: anomie, misanthropy, confidence in political institutions, trust in federal government, personal powerlessness. • Politicization: follow news regularly, information level, political interest. • Participation: summary, campaign, communal, particularistic contacting, voting
Political Behavior of Older Americans • Main findings • Confirmation of socioeconomic model. • The largest effects are between education and political interest (civic orientation), and political interest and political participation. • Group memberships and education have large direct effects on participation.
Life Experiences and Political Behavior of Older Americans • Independent Variables • Health status, stress, number of siblings, marital status, church involvement.
Political Behavior of Older Americans • Extending the model • Life circumstances also have both direct and indirect effects on participation. • Direct link: happiness and participation • Health: affects both interest and happiness • Age: small positive effect on happiness • Widowhood: small negative effect on happiness. • Older women participate somewhat less than older men, partly because of lower interest
Political Behavior of Older Americans • Older African-Americans • Simpler model • Age, which has a negative impact on political interest, education, and group memberships, is more important for African-Americans than for whites. • Life circumstances are less important. • Political participation among older African-Americans is more likely to go up as a result of improvements in socioeconomic status than as a result of increases in racial consciousness or empowerment.
Political Behavior of Older Americans • Older Women • Large education effects for older women than older men • Simpler model
Political Behavior of Older Americans • Conclusions • Ignorance about the actual behavior of older Americans has led to misperceptions about the potential for the growth of gray political power. • Older Americans, although they will grow in numbers and will participate at higher rates, lack political cohesion. • They are extraordinarily diverse in terms of sociodemographic characteristics, party attachments, and issue opinions.
Political Behavior of Older Americans • Conclusions • Elected public officials, fed by media stereotypes, fear gray political power because of a paralyzing terror (mostly irrational) of election defeat. • Plainly, there is no single, coherent, unified voting bloc of older Americans. • This is true even of issues that are of direct concern to them.