June 3, 2010

Seniors are Strongest Advocates for Change in 2010

This year, older Americans want to rock the political establishment. People ages 50 and older have a more negative view of congressional incumbents than do younger people. Nearly a third of those ages 65 and older say they would be more likely to vote for a congressional candidate who has never held elective office — the highest percentage of any age group.

And while majorities or pluralities of those in age groups from 18 to 64 say they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who is willing to make compromises, that is not the case with those ages 65 and older: Just 29% of seniors say they would be more likely to back such a candidate while about as many (32%) would be less likely to vote for a candidate willing to compromise.

Clearly, partisanship also is a major factor in the public’s views of characteristics of congressional candidates. The Pew Research/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll, sponsored by SHRM, conducted May 20-23 among 1,002 adults, found far more Republicans than Democrats saying they would be less likely to vote for an incumbent running for reelection (43% Republican vs. 17% Democrat) as well as for a candidate willing to compromise (40% vs. 19%). A higher percentage of Republicans (32%) than Democrats (16%) also said they would be more likely to vote for a candidate lacking prior elected experience.

Pew Research Center surveys have consistently found that older Americans tend to be more Republican and conservative compared with younger people. However, even when partisanship is taken into account, age differences in views of candidate traits are evident. The differences in opinions between younger and older Republicans are particularly stark.

Age Gaps among Republicans

On balance, younger Republicans and Republican-leaning independents (ages 18 to 49) have a positive view of a candidate who is willing to make compromises with people they disagree with: 42% say they would be more likely to vote for such a candidate, 26% less likely and 31% say it would make no difference.

But just 18% of Republicans and GOP-leaning independents ages 65 and older say they would be more likely to favor a candidate who is willing to make compromises, while more than twice as many (45%) say they would be less likely to vote for such a candidate and 31% say it would make no difference.

Anti-incumbent sentiment also is more widespread among Republicans and GOP leaners older than age 50 (50% less likely to vote for an incumbent) than those younger than age 50 (37%).

About four-in-ten Republicans and Republican-leaning independents ages 65 and older (43%) say they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who has never held elective office; 29% say they would be less likely to vote for a political novice and 21% say it would make no difference. Republicans younger than age 50 are more divided — 28% say they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who never held elective office, 27% say less likely and 42% no difference.

Among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, age differences are evident, though less pronounced. Fewer Democrats age 50 and older (45%) than those under 50 (57%) say they would be more likely to vote for a candidate willing to compromise. In addition, a greater proportion of younger Democrats say they would be less likely to vote for a candidate who has never held elective office (40% vs. 24% of those 50 and older).

Negative Views of Congress

An earlier Congressional Connection Poll, conducted May 13-16, found that the public was highly critical of Congress. Just 13% said it was doing an excellent or good job; 38% said only fair; and 44% said poor.

People age 65 and older expressed a particularly negative view of Congress’s performance: Fully 59% said that Congress was doing a poor job. Nearly as many of those ages 50 to 64 (50%) shared that view, but far fewer of 30-to-49-year-olds (41%) and those under age 30 (24%) took a very negative view of Congress. Similarly, 40% of seniors said President Obama was doing a poor job; just a quarter as many young people (10%) gave Obama very low job ratings.

Those under age 30 stood out for their relatively positive views of national conditions. Fewer than half (47%) said they were dissatisfied with the way things were going in the country; substantial majorities in older age groups — including 74% of those 65 and older — were dissatisfied.

Older Republicans Even More Negative

Not surprisingly, Republicans and Republican-leaning independents were generally very critical of Congress and President Obama, and overwhelmingly dissatisfied with national conditions. Yet even among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, those age 65 and older had the most negative assessments.

Fully 78% said that Congress was doing a poor job, compared with 65% of those ages 50 to 64 and 50% of those under age 50. Nearly two-thirds (66%) of Republicans and GOP leaners who are 65 and older said Obama is doing a poor job, as did 60% of those ages 50 to 64. By comparison, 46% of Republicans under age 50 said that Obama was doing a poor job.

And while large majorities of all Republicans and Republican leaners took a dim view of national conditions and expressed little or no confidence that the government will make progress over the next year on the most important problems facing the country, negative sentiments were nearly universal among the oldest Republicans. Roughly nine-in-ten of those age 65 and older (91%) said they were dissatisfied with the way things are going in the U.S., while about as many (89%) expected the government to make little or no progress on major issues.

For more on….

Views of Candidates, Congress
Pew Research/National Journal Congressional Connection Polls

Views of Government
Distrust, Discontent, Anger and Partisan Rancor
April 18, 2010

Age and Party Affiliation
Democrats’ Edge among Millennials Slips
February 18, 2010