“As people do better, they start voting like Republicans – unless they have too much education and vote Democratic, which proves there can be too much of a good thing,” – Republican presidential campaign strategist Karl Rove.

“If you are young and not a liberal, you don’t have a heart. If you are old and not a conservative, you don’t have a brain,” – Too many Republicans claiming credit to count.

“Hope I die before I get old,” The Who, My Generation

According to a recent syndicated column, literally millions of Baby Boomers have undergone a personal political metamorphosis during the course of their lives. They have been transformed from a born-this-way liberal caterpillar to a conservative butterfly. In my Roman Catholic family, JFK was the patron saint and I could have sworn that Nixon’s first name was “damn.” That was then, this is now.


What I have seen recently is empirical evidence that our generation may not have been as liberal as some thought in the 1960s, and that the majority of us became more conservative beginning in the 1980s. Certainly that is the premise of a syndicated column by Karlyn Bowman and Andrew Rugg of the American Enterprise Institute.

Keep in mind that AEI is conservative, libertarian, free-market oriented – not exactly totally unbiased — so it may not be surprising that they have come to this conclusion. The piece, which relies heavily on polling data over time, is still worthy of analysis.

There is no doubt that Baby Boomers (born1946-1964) harbor vastly different attitudes and approaches from their parents, the majority of whom will go to their respective graves never appreciating classic rock. At the same time, Baby Boomers as a generation are more open-minded when it came to racial issues, sexual orientation and women’s rights than the generations that preceded them. Despite the relaxation of attitudes, the AEI report states that the inevitable maturing and aging of the Baby Boomers in the 1980s resulted in many of them marrying and caring for their own families for the first time and with that parental responsibility.


“In the 1986 Time (magazine) poll, 64 percent of the Baby Boomers polled said they had become more conservative since the 1960s,” Bowman and Rugg wrote. “When asked about their ideological identification, 31 percent said they had been liberal in the 1960s and 70s, but only 21 percent described themselves that way in 1986. The number identifying as conservative rose from 28 percent to 41 percent.”

Even though the AEI research into quantitative data about the political shift of Baby Boomers over the course the past 50 years is impressive and hard to argue with something is indeed missing in the analysis, carried in the market-oriented Wall Street Journal, the liberal-leaning Los Angeles Times and many other publications. The column never mentions a major factor: The “R” word as in Reagan.

Americans instinctively gravitate toward a winner. If you doubt that assertion just think about how many nationwide are fans of the New York Yankees, the Los Angeles Lakers, and those who line up for hours to buy the latest gadget from Apple. In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan was seen as a winner, and he projected the confidence of a winner. Millions simply wanted to be on the winning team.


In 1986, no one was talking about broken government. Reagan was popular. It was morning in America. The right track/wrong track barometer was solidly right track. My boss, George Deukmejian, was re-elected that year as the Republican governor of the biggest blue state, California, with 61 percent of the vote. For those of you scoring at home, that is still the largest landslide of any California gubernatorial race in the modern era (at least).

Looking back at the 1980s, Reagan ran against incumbent Jimmy Carter in 1980 and Walter Mondale four years later. In these two races, Reagan won 93 states and lost a grand total of seven. Quiz: What was the one and only state to vote against Reagan both times?

Before Reagan, America had a long-succession (for a variety of reasons) of presidents that did not serve two terms (Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter) and some pundits wondered whether the job of the presidency was frankly too big for any person to effectively dispense the responsibilities over the course of two terms. Guess the pundits were wrong as Reagan, Clinton and George W. Bush were two term presidents.

As the first Baby Boomers reach retirement age of 65 this year, the question remains how many more presidential elections will this generation make its considerable presence felt?  For now, Baby Boomers are a large, active voting bloc. Barack Obama and his inevitable Republican challenger will be developing outreach strategies for this high participatory constituency. Reagan obviously won the majority of this group. You can be certain that campaign pros on both sides of the great political divide are reviewing the Reagan strategy and coming up with their own twists to win over the Baby Boomer generation in 2012 and beyond.

Quiz Answer: Mondale’s home state of Minnesota. DC voted twice against Reagan as well, but it is not counted as a state.