Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Charting the political dance of party affiliation from a generational perspective


Bill Marsh/The New York Times Note: Click on chart to enlarge.

Most people pretty much stick with the political affiliation they developed in early adulthood. On average, that's the way people mostly continue to vote. That's what makes this chart so interesting. It plots the political party affiliations of Amerticans by age, overlaid on a chart of who was president when they were twenty years old. The graph accompanied this NYT article on party affiliation, and how it changes.
In May 1980, the pollster Richard Wirthlin huddled with his presidential candidate, Ronald Reagan, to plot a course through what looked like a daunting landscape for their party. Just over half the country told pollsters that they were Democrats or leaned that way, compared with just 30 percent that said they were Republicans — a gap that had held steady more or less since the New Deal.

The rest is political history. By winning over millions of white working-class Democrats, Mr. Reagan cut that gap in half and ushered in 26 years of Republican dominance at the voting booth.

Now, on the eve of the midterm elections, surveys show mounting impatience with both the war in Iraq and Republican rule. Some political analysts — including Mr. Wirthlin — say they see a chance for a potential Democratic comeback, an opportunity for another historic realignment of the political parties.
How old were you when you made up your mind where you stood politically? Who was president? Were your views inspired by him, or did they develop in opposition to him? It's not clear the graph has any predictive power, but studying it is a lot like looking at American history for the last 70 years through a panoramic rearview mirror. It also provides endless fuel for speculation. For example: What on earth is George W. Bush doing to the kids? Will the Republicans ever recover?

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