As the 2006 midterm election approaches, politicians are making miscalculations in their attempts to address a key segment of the electorate — The Baby Boom Generation, traditionally defined as those born from 1946 to 1964 and comprising a substantial portion of the electorate. Unfortunately, this generation’s proclivities are being wrongly assessed.
An all-too-common image painted by media is of Boomers forsaking their liberal values in youth to become conservative in middle age — a “cop-out” according to critics. Wrong. Very wrong. This generalization does not take into account the substantial differences between older and younger middle-aged adults.
The 19-year time span after WWII gave birth to two unique generations, which came of age during very different political eras. Today, Baby Boomers (born from the mid-1940s to the mid-1950s) are the most Democratic Party-voting generation, while those born from the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s, now referred to as Generation Jones, are the most GOP-voting generation.
Why does this matter in elections? These two cohorts couldn’t be more opposite politically, yet they are still lumped together as one generation, which creates the impression that middle-aged Americans are conservative overall. This miscalculation leads to wasted opportunities.
For example, in the hotly contested 7th Congressional District in Colorado, Ed Perlmutter, the Democratic contender, has produced a television commercial promising that the candidate supports the current Social Security program. Although this message may appeal to Leading-Edge Boomers and older generations, it’s an ineffective message with Generation Jones. Many Jonesers believe that they will be unlikely to enjoy the full benefits of Social Security because of the trust fund’s predicted insolvency. The right message for Jonesers would be a promise that the candidate supports higher tax-deductible and portable retirement savings products such as Simple IRAs and 401(k) accounts.
While the business community customarily employs generational analysis and targeting, political parties have been slow to grasp the need to address generational segments with targeted messages.
In a recent national survey conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, Boomers polled higher than all other generations in believing that the country is on the wrong track; on the contrary, 33.2% of Jonesers believe the country is going the right direction, again leading all other generations in the extent of their approval. 65.5% of Boomers disapprove of the Bush administration policies in Iraq while 43.9% of Jonesers approve of the administration’s Iraq polices — again, with each generation leading all other generations concerning the strength of their opinions. A majority of Boomers affiliate with the Democratic Party while a majority of Jonesers affiliate with the Republican Party.
This data is statistically significant and reveals enduring political differences between Americans who came of age in the 1960’s versus their younger siblings who reached the impressionable years of early adulthood during the politically conservative mid-1970s to mid-1980s. This research survey, while conducted at a time of widespread disapproval of the status quo, nevertheless provides further affirmation of differential political views shared by majorities of both cohorts.
I define Leading-Edge Baby Boomers as those born between 1946 and 1955. According Jonathan Pontell, the political /social commentator, members of Generation Jones were born between 1954 and 1965. Both of us agree that each group came of age at a vastly different time in America and these formative impressions are enduring in today’s political contests.
Boomers shared teenage and young adult encounters with the galvanizing experiences of Vietnam and the “cultural revolution,” including feminism, civil rights, and environmentalism. They were teenagers and young adults when social forces crashed into President John Kennedy’s "Camelot," followed by the assassinations of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King. Boomers are associated with the liberal and bellicose protest movements of the late sixties and early seventies.
Jonesers, on the other hand, entered college and started careers after the Vietnam War ended in early 1975, and most experienced a less antagonistic period. They began their young adult lives with ebullient expectations — a sense that “the world is my oyster” — but then they confronted sky-high interest rates, malaise during the liberal Carter administration, and, because of their numbers, extreme economic competition. When Ronald Reagan spoke to this younger disenfranchised cohort about “Morning in America and heralded a more conservative economic and political era, they listened and voted accordingly.
In the 3rd edition of "Marketing to Leading-Edge Baby Boomers," I present further insights about how businesses and constituent-based organizations can create more sustainable brand equity through better understanding of the nuanced differences between Baby Boomers and Generation Jones. These insights can then be applied to targeted marketing communications.