Politics Isn’t Red or Blue – It’s Old Vs. New

Independent Center Contributor Brett Loyd

If you were to tell me that immigration is the most important issue to you, I wouldn’t be able to tell which political party you’re from, but I would be able to guess how old you are. That’s because immigration is the most important issue for those older than 65… If you were 18-44, inflation/prices, health care, jobs and the economy, climate change and the environment, civil rights, and abortion are all more important issues than immigration (The Economist/YouGov).  

If you and a strong majority of your friends are white, or you get your news from a television rather than social media (NY Times), or you consider Israel an ally, or China an enemy (The Economist/YouGov), I would have no clue which party you affiliate with, but I know you’re not likely Gen Z or Millennial. 

The same holds true when I hear someone say that a certain message “resonates with the base” – my first thought wouldn’t be ‘which party base’ but rather the older age category of someone still talking about ‘the base’. This is because American political division isn’t red or blue anymore; it’s those younger than about 45 vs. those who are older.

Don’t believe me? Look at Gallup party identification by age:

Three-quarters of the Silent Generation affiliate with a political party. However, a majority born after 1980 do not affiliate with either party… Sorry party politics, your time is ending, as such, so is hyper-partisan messaging and politicking. 

In the past, younger voters ‘started out’ politically independent, and then as they got older joined a party. That isn’t the case anymore. Take a look at this graph from Axios using Gallup trend data (awesome article here)

If you are around 45 or younger, I’d hazard a guess you have no issue with this graph. If you’re a bit older, I’d guess you think this data is skewed or that it isn’t accurately detailing American adults. 

And this is why I say that if you’re talking  about ‘base’ or ‘party politics’ – your time has passed… A message that reaches ‘the base’ only resonates with about a quarter of Americans anymore. And the folks that the message is reaching are disproportionally older and have already made up their mind on how they’re going to vote.

If you were to take a deep dive in the crosstabs of the recent Independent Center poll in Arizona, on the question: Do you expect in the course of the presidential election campaign you might change your mind about the presidential candidate you will vote for? Less than half of those 18-24 are ‘set’ with their pick (23% say they still might change their mind, and 19% are unsure). However, only 3% of those who are 65+ said they might change their mind. 

In the same poll we asked a generic congressional ballot question: If this year’s Congressional election in your district were between a Republican, a Democrat, an Independent / third-party candidate, how would you vote? Only 7% of those 18-24 were ‘definitely’ going to vote for one of the major party candidates. In contrast, 67% of those 65+ were ‘definitely’ going to vote for the ‘generic’ Republican or Democratic candidate. That 60-point spread should be a staggering wakeup call to the rank-and-file elected officials and political organizations that swear allegiance to party over the public.

Look, a 72-year-old that lives in their cul-de-sac and watches Fox News or MSNBC on loop (looking at you in-laws), is going to vote the way they’ve always voted. A message that bashes the opposition ‘works’ and makes them ‘more likely’ to vote for the candidate they were going to vote for regardless… Is any message or campaign tactic going to change these people’s minds? Not likely (insert comment about old dogs and new tricks). 

However, the ‘more open-minded’ younger voters (see data, not opinion), are willing to listen to both sides of an argument, and vote for a candidate that appeals to them – they are not simply going to vote for a candidate because of a specific political party. 

The Independent Center Arizona poll shows that 44% of the youngest voters (18-24) will likely ‘split-ticket’ vote. So, the old red vs. blue, Republican vs. Democrat talking points aren’t going to resonate with someone who doesn’t affiliate with either party and doesn’t plan to vote straight-ticket.

One more disastrous fact facing the parties – Gen Z and Millennial voters will make up a plurality of voters this election… and even more so in 2026, ’28 and so on… Their brand of politics isn’t going anywhere; it’ll be interesting to see if the political parties can figure that out before they become extinct. 

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