On one side are the aging baby boomers who came of age in the 1960s and whose generation now is heading toward retirement — Democrat Hillary Clinton, who would be 69 on Election Day and the second oldest president ever, and Republican Jeb Bush, who would turn 64 soon after becoming president.
On the other is a wave of younger faces who came of age in the 1980s, including Republicans Marco Rubio, 43; Ted Cruz, 44; Scott Walker, 47; Chris Christie and Rand Paul, each 52.
It’s not just the candidates who make this a generational battle. It’s voters. Younger people see the world differently. They’re far more willing to embrace certain social changes and to communicate electronically. Older voters, though, are hardly fading away. They remain determined to see a secure Social Security and Medicare system, a more efficient health care operation and more direct aid to help struggling workers.
Rubio, who would be the third-youngest person ever to be sworn in as president, summoned the need to hand the baton to his generation when he kicked off his campaign by telling a Miami audience that the generation before him “put us at a disadvantage by taxing, borrowing and regulating like it’s 1999.” As he spoke to New Hampshire activists Friday, supporters passed out signs saying, “Marco Rubio A New American Century.”
Clinton’s announcement video and tours of Iowa and New Hampshire in recent days tried to assure younger people, particularly the racial minorities who make up an important part of the Democratic Party’s base, that with government’s help they could lead fulfilling middle-class lives while their parents are assured of being comfortable. But her appeal was far less targeted to that generation. She spoke in broader strokes, stressing the crying need for economic fairness.
Republicans are going out on riskier limbs. Christie last week offered a detailed plan to revamp Social Security and Medicare, including raising the eligibility ages and phasing out Social Security benefits for those earning more than $80,000 from other sources.
Few serious presidential candidates would have dared to tinker with those programs even a few years ago. Today, such blueprints are a potentially effective strategy for mobilizing a new wave of voters, those born during and after the Reagan administration.
Those younger voters tend to be more conservative and less loyal to any specific political party, said Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg, director of Massachusetts-based CIRCLE, which studies young voter trends.
“Young people would like to be interactive with government,” said Kawashima-Ginsberg. “They want to see politicians being responsive.”