America is a Senior Nation, forget the hype. As described in my Post “Can Obama WinWith The Youth Vote?”, Seniors outnumber the 17-26 crowd by 8 million. The biggest bump of course is in the middle, with people in their thirties, forties, and fifties numbering about 145 million. Demographics is destiny. What people forget in all the hype about the Youth Market is that the hype is just that, hype.
America is a Senior Nation, not a Youth Nation, and that will drive both the politics and culture of America in ways we have not seen before.
“Gossip Girl” on the CW, successor to the WB Network, may generate hype and “buzz” and lots of mentions in the media. But it only gets about 2 million viewers a week. There just are not that many young people, no matter how desirable they are to marketers. [Marketing dogma holds that young people form lifetime brand preferences, at young ages, therefore it’s worthwhile to spend lots of money to reach your future lifetime customers.]
But in a democracy, whoever assembles the most votes wins. No matter how uncool and unhip they are to the Media, driven by marketing hype to deliver “the right” types of readers or viewers. The votes are with the Seniors, and people who will soon be Seniors.
The Politics of America are going to change, indeed they are changing already. Seniors want stability, safety, and security. They don’t like risk, which has very little upside for them. They’re not socially or physically mobile. They often own their own, modest homes, living on fixed incomes. Deteriorating neighborhoods leave them trapped, prisoners in their own houses. Crime is a serious problem for Seniors, who are the most vulnerable and the most frequent victims. When Barack Obama, or other politicians decry the fact that far more young Black men are in prison than in College, Seniors breathe a sigh of relief. Obviously, not every young Black man is going to be like Mike Tyson, who at 17 earned pocket money by mugging old ladies for their Social Security checks. But enough are like him, that Seniors by and large will be happy with more young Black men in prison than in College. In prison at least, their victims are not Seniors. Not THEM. Seniors just don’t care about what the Media hypes. A mugging at age 80 is no joke. While it’s an inconvenience to a man of 25, a story to be told later over beers with one’s peers about how cool one played it, for a man of 80 it’s likely to lead to fractured hips, bed sores, and a slow death of pneumonia during a lengthy hospitalization.
Crime, and the desire for Seniors to drive it down to ever more lower levels, is going to dominate American Politics, because that’s where the votes are. Needless to say, people in their Thirties, Forties, and Fifties who own their own homes, and have children, hate Crime as well. They don’t live in cities and dwell in far off “exurbs” just to get away from crime and unsafe schools. Democrats are at a strategic disadvantage here, because minority coalitions (Black, Hispanic) that support “soft on crime” measures such as gang outreach, lower prison sentences, community group funding run counter to the desire of Seniors and Middle Aged people to lock up criminals and keep them locked up. Something the minority coalitions press Democrats to oppose.
Republicans therefore have a built-in advantage over Democrats on Crime.
National Security is another issue that is going to be driven by America’s new status as a Senior Nation. The name of the game is risk avoidance. For the young, a dirty bomb that kills relatively few but leaves housing and property contaminated and useless is time for adventure. An opportunity to demonstrate one’s caring and daring, in the endless positioning in the dating and relationship market. It is not something to be feared. “Fear” is something to be disdained. But for older people, fear is a constant companion. Fear of an attack that leaves one homeless, having to start all over again at age 38, or 45, or age 57, or worse in one’s 70’s or older. Losing not just property, but priceless photos and other treasures that may be the only link to loved ones long dead. Being poor and old is a constant fear. One the young generally cannot understand.
Terrorism does not just strike at a few, rather it is a message to the rest that if they are not killed in future attacks, they can be left poor and alone. For Seniors, that is a devastating message. One they respond to with fury. People who have worked hard all their lives do not take kindly to the idea that for the “greater good” and “America’s respect in the World” they’ll have to risk being left on the street with nothing. Or dead. People in walkers don’t move so quick out of the way when an attack comes. Seniors don’t plan to Summer in Europe, so they don’t care what the rest of the world thinks of us. They only want to be safe. From foreign terrorists as much as domestic criminals.
The advantage in the Senior Nation is to Republicans, who have advocated doing whatever it takes to secure the US against terrorist attack. Democrats have consistently argued that how other countries view the US matters more. Which might have provided the balance for the 2004 Presidential Election.
Culture too, is changing in Senior Nation. More people watch “American Idol” [at around 25 million per week] than youth oriented CW’s entire broadcast schedule combined. Solidly middle aged, and stolidly middle class, “American Idol” satisfies the desire for wholesome, “non-edgy” and “non-hip” entertainment. Pushing the envelope is a young man and woman’s game, but we are already at a point where there just aren’t that many young people anymore. Not enough anyway, to make the “hip/edgy” model work in anything but niche entertainment.
The mass-market still rules in entertainment, which has many substitutes (video games, music, the internet, TV, movies, DVDs, and books) for each segment. Movies that are hits become hits not just with teens and twenty somethings, but men and women in their thirties or gasp, even older. “American Idol” has many viewers in their fifties, but advertisers still clamor for spots on the most watched show on TV. “Iron Man” may bring in teen boys, but also men in their thirties and forties. It’s no accident that CBS’s popular, but older skewing schedule has many “manly men” of … mature years as the leads. William Peterson in “CSI” or Gary Sinise in “CSI:NY” or David Caruso in “CSI:Miami” or Mark Harmon in “NCIS” or Anthony LaPaglia in “Without A Trace” or Kiefer Sutherland of “24” or Dennis Haysbert in “the Unit” are not the young, pretty boys of movies, but bring in the viewers. Who tend, unsurprisingly, to be older themselves. “Older” virtues of loyalty, patience, wisdom, maturity, and judgment are likely to be more prominent, and displace somewhat the “youthful” virtues of impetuosity, willfulness, and vigor.
What this all boils down to is a more conservative temperament in the body politic. We’re getting older. No longer willing to party till three AM, looking for the next girlfriend or boyfriend, hopping from job to job, city to city, seeking the new and exciting. Safety and security are the watchwords, with demographics pushing a tough on crime domestic policy, tough on terrorists foreign/national security policy, and return to maturity in popular culture.