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Generation X and President Biden: Reality bites: NPR

Gen X voters were raised on Rock the Vote and political engagement during the Clinton years, but they are increasingly conservative and opposed to President Biden.

Joyce Naltchayan/AFP via Getty Images

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Joyce Naltchayan/AFP via Getty Images

Gen X voters were raised on Rock the Vote and political engagement during the Clinton years, but they are increasingly conservative and opposed to President Biden.

Joyce Naltchayan/AFP via Getty Images

Tara Schoettle’s disapproval of President Biden dates back to her childhood.

“I have a distinct memory of when Carter was in power and we had to wait in line for gas,” Schoettle told NPR, referring to the gas shortages that plagued the United States under the Democratic President Jimmy Carter. “I feel like liberals have always done this sort of thing and they like to call things socially responsible and things like that, but they’re very fiscally irresponsible.”

At 54, Schoettle is clearly part of Generation X – those born between approximately 1965 and 1980. This political memory alone helps explain why they are more conservative than members of other generations. Schoettle has only voted for a Democratic president once: Barack Obama in 2008.

“Generation X is the most Republican of the generations,” said Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University and author of the book Generationswhich examines what drives generational differences.

NPR/PBS News Hour/A Marist poll highlights this point: By generation, Biden has the highest disapproval rating of Gen X (62%), compared to the Silent/Greatest Generation (48%), Baby Boomers (48%) ) and Generation Z/millennials (50%). ). Biden also has the highest “strongly disapprove” rating among Gen millennials (35%).

Twenge says the political leanings of generations can be influenced by the popularity of the president when that generation is a teenager or young adult. For Generation X, this is largely defined by an unpopular Carter and a popular Republican president, Ronald Reagan.

Even Gen Xers who generally say they approve of Biden share a nostalgia for the politics of their youth.

“Ronald Reagan made me feel good as an American citizen, as an American,” said Ken Piccolo, 56, a substitute teacher from San Jose, California.

“He made you feel like it was worth it and that we’re a good country and we’re doing good things, because the way he interacted with the state, the world, the country – he just made you makes you feel good about being American.”

But Piccolo’s support for Biden is tenuous. He feels good about the direction the economy is heading, but he remains concerned about Biden’s age. So if there’s a younger — and viable — Democrat, he says he might switch his vote. But for now, he says his vote for Biden is motivated by a disgust with the influence former President Donald Trump had over the Republican Party. “I don’t hate the Republican Party. I hate its MAGA wing,” he said. “These people are crazy.”

It’s always about economics, stupid

Gen more severely in middle age.

“You feel all the pressures of modern society at this age in your life, which is what most people in their 40s and 50s feel,” said Amy Walter, a nonpartisan political analyst at The Cook Political Report. and a Generation Xer. “I just think we’re in a unique situation, in a very uncomfortable place right now.”

That resonates with Sheryl Graham, 55, who lives near Clearwater, Florida, and has three children. “We live paycheck to paycheck. I think I probably have to sell my house to make money,” Graham told NPR.

“If we get another Republican back in power, I think I’ll be fine,” she said. Graham said she had voted for Democrats in the past, particularly for Bill Clinton and Obama, but had voted for Republicans since then — and never intended to do so again.

Walters added that Trump’s “Make America Great Again” message appeals to older voters, particularly baby boomers, but also their Gen they feel like they can’t have the same access – that could be the other piece.”

This message is also more likely to resonate with white members of Generation X – who make up 60%. of their generation – than non-white individuals. Darnell Bender is 55 years old, black, a Democrat, and lives outside of Atlanta. He’s feeling pretty optimistic about the state of the country under Biden. “On the Republican side, you know, it’s like America has fallen into this deep, dark crevasse and only this person can get us out. And I’m like, I don’t see that,” he said. he declares. “The way Trump is trying to paint it, to make it almost seem like he’s scaring people into voting for him, which is crazy.”

Yesterday’s political correctness meets today’s woke

The culture wars are nothing new to members of Generation X – the generation that coined the term “political correctness” – but the current debate over when and how to police speech is particularly unpopular with them. “Gen don’t agree,” Twenge said. .

Gen Xers are not as culturally conservative as baby boomers – the generation before them. But they’re also not as culturally progressive as millennials and Gen Z.

Sean Trende, senior election analyst for RealClearPolitics and himself a Gen Xer, described it as “almost like cultural libertarianism.”

“We call it the culture war or cancel culture or wokeness or whatever — I think Generation X is the one that has the most negative impacts,” he said.

Graham said she feels this tension in her own family with her three children.

“We’ll say something that we think is absolutely not wrong, and they’ll say, ‘Well, you can’t say that.’ And I’m like, ‘What does that mean?'” she said.

“Like the word ‘retarded,’ like ‘That’s a stupid thing to say,’ or ‘Is that the black guy down the street?'” she said. “And they’ll say, ‘Why do you say that?’ We grew up where we think it’s okay to say, “Is that stupid? or “Is there a black man on the street?” You know what I say?”

On the other hand, Gen X Democrats like Piccolo, they emphasize their disgust with conservative efforts to restrict free speech, particularly in schools and libraries. “You can’t change history. They want to change history. They want to ban books. And they want to do all these things that say, yes, you’re leaning toward fascism,” he said.

The lazy generation shrugs its shoulders at politics

Compared to baby boomers or millennials, Generation X is rarely discussed in national political debates. “I think the big question is: Is it a function of age or a function of generation? Because when it came to the baby boomers who were middle-aged, everyone there was paying attention. So I think maybe that’s the case. The middle generation is Gen X, which is still ignored,” Twenge said.

Generation X is also smaller in population than other generations and has comparatively lower political and electoral participation. “They just haven’t voted in the same proportions as the baby boomers before them and the millennials after them. And there’s also a significant lag in electing Gen Xers to political office,” Twenge said.

This is the case of Danny Dotson, 55, independent who lives near San Antonio. “I never got involved in politics for most of my life, until, I guess, after Trump became president,” he told NPR. He said he has voted sporadically in national elections, withdrawing completely in 2016 and voting for a third-party candidate in 2020. As for 2024? “My first feeling is immense disgust with our country for allowing these two people to run again,” he said.

Dotson doesn’t know who he’ll vote for next year, but he said he absolutely will. “I’m 100 percent sure I’m not going to vote for any of these people,” he said.

Call it the “Oh, well, whatever, never mind” vote.

Jeongyoon Han contributed to this report.

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