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Generational Cycles – Political Impressionability

Generational Cycles –  Political Impressionability

| On 23, Jun 2019

Darrell Mann

This from the Greg Lukianoff, Jonathan Haidt book, ‘The Coddling Of The American Mind’ (the one referenced earlier in the ezine in the second article):

“Here’s a quirk about American politics: the majority of white Americans vote for Republicans for president, unless they were born after 1981 or between 1950 and 1954.”

The most obvious generation-related connection is that ‘after 1981’ is all about the start of the Millennial, ‘Hero’ Generation. But the more interesting finding – especially if we stand by our research ethos of looking for things that don’t fit the theory – is what happened between 1950 and 1954, because at first glance, these years have little if any connection to any kind of generational transition period. The Lukianoff book continues…

“what’s the story for those born between 1950 and 1954? They strongly favoured Democrats through the 1980s and have roughly been evenly divided since then, with a slight lean overall toward the Democrats. Why is there a little demographic island of Democrats among white Americans born in the early 1950s?… The answer might be 1968. Or, rather, the period of emotionally intense national political events of 1968 and the years around it (roughly 1965-72). The political scientists Yair Ghitza and Andrew Gelman examined voting patterns of Americans to see whether political events or the political climate in childhood left some mark on people’s later political orientation. They found that there is a window of higher impressionability running from about age fourteen to twenty-four, with its peak around age eighteen. Political events – or perhaps the overall zeitgeist as people perceive it – are more likely to ‘stick’ during that period than outside that age range.”

The sequence of three graphics at the top of this article show the political affiliations of white Americans through their lives for people born in 1944, 1954 and 1964 respectively. (If you want to explore the graphic in more detail, check out which is in its own right an amazing piece of data visualization.)

The core of the Strauss & Howe generation-cycle model contains two main parts. One, the transfer of influence from parent to child, and, two, ‘events happen at random, society’s reaction to those events is generationally conditioned’. What the Ghitza/Gelman research tells us is that our political reactions are ‘governed’ by what events happen when we’re in the age range 14 to 24:

Two things come out of this picture:

  1. Because the political ‘impressionability’ period of life is the ten years from 14 to 24, and generations are 20-25 years, it indicates that political affiliation – like popular music – is likely to follow a half-generation cyclical pattern.
  2. More specifically, if we look at the blue dot on the graph it signifies a potentially important point in political history as the new ‘Generation Z Artists come of age. Looking at the political turmoil that’s been going on around them since 2016 it seems very likely we’ll see a significant leftward shift in their political views very much like those born in the 1950-1954 period. Which, if the same model applies in the UK (and we think it does), all those youngsters too young to vote in the Brexit referendum, might have something significant to say if there’s a second referendum now they’ve reached voting age.