The age factor: Bam vs. Hill

 
Age a great predictor
in Clinton vs. Obama
 

A YOUNG woman completes a form to become a volunteer for the Barack Obama campaign outside a high school in Levittown, Pennsylvania.

Ruth Fremson/NEW YORK TIMES

 
Hillary’s pinnocle play as a child
in grandpa’s old lakehouse won’t
do with young pro-Barack voters

 
 
By KATHARINE Q. SEELYE

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

 
 
JAY Leno recently made fun of a commercial for Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, in which she referred to playing pinochle as a child at her grandfather’s lake house in Pennsylvania.
 
Pinochle?” Mr. Leno said quizzically to his late-night audience. “Well, that’ll help with the young voters, huh? I mean, come on. What kids aren’t playing pinochle now?”
 
The joke about the old card game captured a truth about this year’s Democratic primary: Mrs. Clinton has generally bypassed younger voters. And they have bypassed her, flocking instead to her rival, Senator Barack Obama. At the same time, she has attracted older voters, those who grew up in the pre-Internet era and might actually have played pinochle.
 
In a campaign where demographics seem to be destiny, one of the most striking factors is the segregation of voters by age. In state after state, older voters have formed a core constituency for Mrs. Clinton, who is 60, while younger voters have coalesced around Mr. Obama, who is 46. Age has been one of the most consistent indicators of how someone might vote – more than sex, more than income, more than education. Only race is a stronger predictor of voting than age, and then only if a voter is black, not if he or she is white.
 
Age is likely to play a particularly strong role in the Democratic primary Tuesday in Pennsylvania. The outmigration of young people has left the state with the second-highest proportion of people over 65 in the country, after Florida. Fifty-eight percent of registered Democrats are older than 45, a consistent dividing line in the race.
 
As an enduring part of Mrs. Clinton’s coalition – which also includes blue-collar workers, Roman Catholics and women – older voters are expected to vote lopsidedly for her.
 
Rosalie Hertzog, 60, a teacher, saw Mrs. Clinton in West Chester over the weekend. “I can recognize that same age area and what we’ve gone through as women together,” Ms. Hertzog said. “I’m not saying I’m voting for her just as a woman. But I recognize all the hardships that we’ve had to overcome, and to think we’ve even gotten this far is wonderful, it really is.”
 
Experience also matters to Ms. Hertzog.
 
“It’s not that I don’t like Barack,” she said. “I just don’t think he’s seasoned enough.”
 
According to exit polls conducted by Edison/Mitofsky in the states that have voted so far, 57 percent of voters 65 and older have supported Mrs. Clinton and 36 percent have supported Mr. Obama. Most of the Clinton voters say they want a candidate with experience.
 
Of voters age 30 and younger, 59 percent have supported Mr. Obama and 38 percent have supported Mrs. Clinton. Most of Mr. Obama’s supporters say they want change.
 
Part of the reason is simply identification with one’s own age bracket, which both candidates have tried to exploit.
 
“This is classic generational politics,” said Gordon F. de Jong, a demographer at Pennsylvania State University. “Their identification with one candidate or the other has to do with the time when voters were socialized.”
 
Mrs. Clinton may not have appreciated it a couple of weeks ago when her husband suggested that she misstated the circumstances of her trip to Bosnia because she was 60, tired and forgetful; on the other hand, maybe some voters could relate.
 
“If I was in my 20s, maybe I’d support Obama,” said Germaine Donahue, 64, who lives in Sullivan County, in northeastern Pennsylvania, and helps run a cleaning service. “But life tempers you. I’m with Hillary.”
 
Sullivan County has the highest concentration of people over 65 in the state, but it is sparsely populated and largely Republican. Only 1,770 people, or 39 percent of all registered voters in the county, are Democrats. Mrs. Donahue, who is the Democratic county vice chairwoman, gathered a few of them the other night in Laporte township to talk about the campaign.
 
John Peterman, 85, a former Navy engineer, said he supported Mrs. Clinton because “the world is not ready for a black president.” His wife, Mary, 81, agreed with him.
 
Noel Stein, 72, and his wife, Judy, 67, both like Mrs. Clinton. Mrs. Stein said she liked her “because she’s a woman” and Mr. Stein said he liked her because of her husband.
 
Arla Hacker, 49, a bank teller, said she also liked Mrs. Clinton because she had Ms. Hacker’s economic interests at heart. “The people who are 18 and 20 years old don’t know what it’s like to sit in a gas line,” she said. “Kids today don’t understand how tough it is. Obama just talks about it.”
 
But Derek Davis, 68, said he was voting for Mr. Obama. He said Mrs. Clinton was too adversarial. “Let’s give the young guy a try,” Mr. Davis said.
 
Mr. de Jong, the demographer, said the state was older than most others because it had been losing a larger percentage of its young people for a longer time, largely because they were looking for jobs. That not only reduced the number of young people, it also lowered the birth rate.
 
Neither campaign likes to say that it appeals chiefly to a particular age group. “We’re not conceding any demographic,” said Nick Clemons, a senior adviser for Mrs. Clinton in Pennsylvania.
 
On the other hand, they cannot ignore the obvious, or the reliable cushion that it provides.
 
Barack Obama has no experience and no plans. He just works on emotions, and this is why young people like him,” said Kimberly Romm, 44, who is self-employed and heard Mrs. Clinton speak at Haverford College. “People who are more mature analyze things. They’re wiser.”
 
Obama Philadelphia Rally
FRONTRUNNER Barack Obama speaks to an estimated 35,000 people in Philadelphia on Friday evening.

Ozier Muhammad/NEW YORK TIMES

 
 
Obama’s young backers
twist own parents’ arms
 

PENNSYLVANIA Sen. Bob Casey, whose family members are shown here with Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, is among the superdelegates who have cited the persuasive power of their children in endorsing the Democratic frontrunner.

Kevin Washo/OFFICE of Sen. Bob Casey

 
 
Dem supers, primary voters
cite their children’s influence
 
 
By JAN HOFFMAN

8 April 2008

 
 
THE DAILY phone calls. The midnight e-mail. And, when college lets out, those dinner table declamations? Oh, please.
 
Senator Barack Obama’s devotees just won’t give their parents a break.
 
As the race for the Democratic presidential nomination continues, youthful volunteers for each candidate have been campaigning with bright-eyed brio, not only door-to-door but also at home. But the young supporters of Mr. Obama, who has captured a majority of under-30 primary voters, seem to be leading in the pestering sweepstakes. They send their parents the latest Obama YouTube videos, blog exhortations and “Tell Your Mama/Vote for Obama!” bumper stickers.
 
Megan Simpson, a Penn State senior, had not been able to budge her father, a Republican. But the day before the deadline for registering for the coming Democratic primary in Pennsylvania, she handed him the forms and threw in a deal-sweetener as well. “I said, ‘Dad, if you change your party affiliation in time to vote for Obama,’ ” recalled Ms. Simpson, 22, an Obama campus volunteer, “ ‘I will get you the paperwork the day after the primary if you want to switch back to being a Republican.’”
 
Thus did Ralph E. Simpson Jr., 50, construction company owner, become a newly minted Democrat. “I probably will switch my affiliation back,” Mr. Simpson said, “but I haven’t decided who I will vote for in the general election. If Meg keeps working on me, who knows?”
 

REPUBLICAN perennially as a voter, Ralph Simpson Jr., a 50-year-old construction company owner from Lancaster, Pennsylvania registers as a Democrat at the insistence of her daughter Megan Simpson, a 22-year-old supporter of Barack Obama.

Mike Mergen/NEW YORK TIMES

 
No poll has counted Obama supporters who made their choice at the urging of their children. But combined exit polls for all the primaries so far (excluding Florida and Michigan) show that Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton has edged out Mr. Obama, 50 percent to 46 percent, among voters ages 45 to 64 – those who are old enough, and then some, to be the parents of Mr. Obama’s young supporters.
 
But even politicians are mentioning the persuasiveness of their children, either in earnest or as political cover, as a factor in their Obama endorsements.
 
That list of Democrats includes Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Gov. Jim Doyle of Wisconsin, Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.
 
While politicians inevitably invoke children and the future, rarely have the political preferences of children themselves carried much weight with their elders. On the contrary: when baby boomer parents were the age their children are now, the ideological and social gap between generations was more pronounced. Parents were, by definition, authoritarian. Their children were, by definition, anti-.
 
But the sharp distinctions between generations have eroded. Parents now are exponentially more entwined with their offspring, inclined to place their children’s emotional well-being ahead of their own. Even when students live away at college, many parents call them and send text messages every day.
 
The Obama campaign was well positioned to capitalize on this veritable seamlessness. From the outset, Mr. Obama eagerly sought out young voters with his Internet operation and a widespread, efficient campus network. Those efforts are paying off: in all Democratic primaries to date (excluding Florida and Michigan), about 6 in 10 voters under age 30 have supported him, according to exit polls conducted by Edison/Mitofsky.
 
For some waffling primary voters, the relentless push by their children was good enough reason to capitulate. Eager to encourage their offspring’s latest enthusiasm, they have been willing to toss up their hands and vote for Mr. Obama, if only to impress their children.
 
“Our kids are probably more precious to us than any previous generation of parents,” said Dan Kindlon, a Harvard child psychologist. “We have fewer of them, we’re relativists, and we’re more swayed by them. A lot of parents are a little afraid of their kids.”
 
For many parents, this campaign season also feels like a fond flashback: in their children’s unvarnished idealism, many see a resurrection of their own youthful political passions.
 
“It’s something you can brag to your friends about,” said Professor Kindlon, who writes about child-rearing and adolescents. “‘My kid is involved in politics.’”
 
Donna Wall, 50, an elementary school teacher from Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina, had been a supporter of Mrs. Clinton. But her son, Drew, 21, a college student and Obama volunteer, would not let up until his mother switched allegiances for the coming primary.
 
“I’m glad they’re interested in something other than their own self-interest and partying,” Mrs. Wall said.
 
Curtis Gans, a staff director of Eugene J. McCarthy’s 1968 campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, pointed out that the youthful enthusiasm in this primary did resemble that of 40 years ago. But he said that while Mr. McCarthy’s temporary success was largely due to the support of college students and middle-class mothers, they had been aroused more by the issue of the Vietnam War than by the candidate’s charisma.
 
“People are enthused by the fact that young people are engaged and excited again,” said Mr. Gans, director of the Center for the Study of the American Electorate at American University. “They think that’s really healthy, and they’d like to sustain it. But at this point, it is temporary and it is about Obama.”
 
There’s no telling whether these youthful importunings on Mr. Obama’s behalf will tip the balance for the nomination, or follow him into the general election should he be nominated. Certainly Mrs. Clinton is not without her own fresh-faced vanguard.
 
Rachel Mattson, 18, a freshman at Wellesley, called her mother, Michelle, in Memphis daily, pressing her to vote for Mrs. Clinton in the Tennessee primary.
 
“I don’t see a huge difference between the two candidates,” said Michelle Mattson, 45. “But Rachel never let it go. You’ll be sitting at the dinner table for an hour going over this stuff! Her enthusiasm and what it means to her inspired me.” She voted for Mrs. Clinton.
 
While Mrs. Clinton has a national network of student volunteers, Mr. Obama’s network is far more extensive. Web sites like Kids for Obama and YrMomma4Obama urge youngsters to talk up the candidate to their parents.
 
The two adult sons of Governor Doyle, 62, both black and both adopted, spoke to him with fervor about Mr. Obama’s vision of a multiracial country. Then Mr. Doyle’s young grandson piled on.
 
“He’s a complete Barackomaniac,” Mr. Doyle said in a phone interview. “When I asked him why, he said, ‘I think he’s really going to work hard for us.’ I thought, that’s it through the eyes of a 7-year-old. ‘He’ll work hard,’ and ‘for us.’”
 
The stealth campaigning was more persistent in the home of Senator Casey, 47. Mr. Casey, who was going to remain neutral, noticed how excited his four daughters, ages 11 to 19, were about Mr. Obama. The autographed Obama posters on the bedroom walls. The self-imposed hush in the living room when Mr. Obama would give a televised speech.
 
His daughter Julia, 13, would say, “Dad, when are you going to endorse Obama?” Mr. Casey recalled in a phone interview. “My response was, ‘I’m thinking about a lot of things, Julia.’ And she’d laugh and say, ‘Dad, answer my question.’”
 
Not all parents have been overjoyed to see their children donate countless unpaid hours to Mr. Obama.
 
Bader el Shareif, 52, who immigrated from Gaza 31 years ago, was appalled that his daughter Ami, 20, a student at the University of Wisconsin, worked almost seven days a week last summer in Chicago for the candidate. Mr. el Shareif, who was leaning toward Senator John McCain, was annoyed that she did not have a salaried job to defray college expenses.
 
“I’d be exhausted, but I’d still want to debate with him,” Ms. el Shareif said. “Then he’d start calling me up and saying, ‘Hey, did you hear this about Obama? So and so endorsed him!’”
 
In the Illinois primary, Mr. el Shareif voted for Mr. Obama. His daughter, thrilled, sent him an Obama sign, which he displays in his convenience store near the University of Chicago.
 
“The neighbors and the students come in now and say, ‘We like your sign,’” Mr. el Shareif said. “Maybe these young people know something we don’t.”
 

AN IMMIGRANT from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict-affected region of Gaza who began pursuing the American dream more than 30 years ago, Bader el Shareif is a registered voter in Democratic Sen. Barack Obama’s home state of Illinois, although he has traditionally voted Republican – but his daughter Ami el Shareif, a 20-year-old college student, earlier persuaded him to vote Obama in the Illinois presidential primary.

Andy Manis/NEW YORK TIMES

 

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