'Silent Generation' May Get Loud In 2012 Election In retirement, the "silent generation" is becoming increasingly conservative and angry. It's also more engaged in politics than are other generations. NPR's series on generational politics, in collaboration with the Pew Research Center, examines the politics of those 66 to 83 years old.
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'Silent Generation' May Get Loud In 2012 Election

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'Silent Generation' May Get Loud In 2012 Election

'Silent Generation' May Get Loud In 2012 Election

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Guy Raz.


I'm Robert Siegel. And we begin this hour with the American political divide between older and younger voters. It is widening, according to a report out today from the Pew Research Center. The report shows that voters under 30 are becoming more liberal, while voters over 65 are turning more conservative. In the next few days, NPR will take a closer look at each generation in the report and how age colors their views of politics today. We begin with the oldest, those over 65. NPR's Jeff Brady reports that they angrier about politics than any other generation.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: The Pew Research Center examined views across four age groups: The millennial generation, those under 30; generation X, in the 30s and 40s; baby boomers; and the so-called silent generation. That group came of age primarily in the 1950s, after the greatest generation, after World War II, and during the Eisenhower presidency.


BRADY: The highly polished McGuire Sisters was the teenage sound for this generation. And as they raised families, the silent generation's conservatism deepened. Small government has been a mantra. They were the only generation to favor John McCain over Barack Obama in 2008. Today, their political views have hardened, says Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center.

ANDREW KOHUT: A very high percentage of them register angry, not just frustration with Washington, but real anger. I think 30 percent of them say, I'm angry. If you look at the youngest voters, it's only 13 percent.

BRADY: And that anger is prompting these voters to give more thought to next year's presidential election.

KOHUT: Back, four years ago, only 36 percent of this generation said they were giving a lot of thought. Now, it's up to 42 percent. Younger people are giving less thought. Older people are giving more thought.

BRADY: A good place to find members of the silent generation is a library in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania. It's Tuesday afternoon, and the free movie is about to start.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: This should be plugged into something.


BRADY: There are some technical difficulties, so that gives us time to chat. James Farrell is 69 years old and not surprised that his generation is the most angry about politics.

JAMES FARRELL: Not at all. Not at all. Because the younger people, they have no clue as to what's really going on out there.

BRADY: Members of this group say the millennial generation doesn't know how good it can be in the U.S. These folks think back to when Eisenhower or Ronald Reagan or even Bill Clinton was president and say life was much better then.

MARJORIE LUKENS: I think the country is in a huge mess. And I have no idea whom I'm going to vote for at this point.

BRADY: Eighty-year-old Marjorie Lukens is a registered Republican, though she votes across the parties and is frustrated with everyone.

LUKENS: The Republicans are blocking everything that Obama wants to do and cooperation has become a dirty word. And I'm not sure Obama knows what he's doing.

BRADY: And the problems extend beyond politics to the culture, says 67-year-old Linda Cohen. She points to medical dramas on TV to illustrate this.

LINDA COHEN: When you watched Marcus Welby, Dr. Marcus Welby, you know, on TV, I mean, it's not like a "Grey's Anatomy" or a "Private Practice" that you have today where everybody is getting in bed with everybody else.



BRADY: It's difficult to imagine him having sex. But sex and love is key in "Grey's Anatomy" plots, so much so that online, a few people have tried to map out who has slept with whom on the show. There's a lesbian couple who also is mixed race, a sign of the times in an increasingly diverse country. But those things don't sit well with much of the silent generation, says Andrew Kohut with Pew.

KOHUT: What comes through in this survey, there is a feeling of discomfort or lack of comfort with modern America among many older people.

BRADY: While the silent generation identifies closely with Republicans, Kohut says there is one issue that's a wildcard for them: Social Security. They're big supporters of it and Medicare. They're as likely to favor Democrats on these issues as the GOP. So between now and the 2012 election expect Social Security to become a hot campaign topic. Jeff Brady, NPR News.

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