By LISA HOFFMAN and SARAH McBroom
Scripps Howard News Service
March 12, 2007
Of 6,100 elected state and national officials across the country, a slight but significant majority are members of that enormous population group, which largely came of age rebelling against the "establishment."
Now, they are it.
A Scripps analysis, the first such look at these demographics of power, found that more than 55 percent of America's current governors, state lawmakers, and congressional representatives and senators were born between 1946 and 1964, the era generally tagged as the baby-boom generation.
The total tally excludes about 10 percent of the officials nationwide because their birth dates were not found or were in dispute.
Even so, the percentage in office is certain to mushroom as more of the 78-million-strong boomers - the leading edge of whom only recently passed the 60-year-old mark - progresses through the peak years of political power.
The nation has already had two boomer presidents - Bill Clinton and George W. Bush - and the odds are substantial the next will be one, as well. Of the current 15 announced or expected 2008 presidential candidates, all but five sprang from the turbulent boomer era.
A foreshadowing of the growing dominance of the boomers in politics is already evident in America's statehouses.
By far, governors today have the most boomers in their ranks, with 74 percent of the 50 chief executives carrying the label, the Scripps analysis found. In the state capitals, 58 percent of state senate members are boomers, as are about 54 percent of lower house lawmakers.
In the U.S. House of Representatives, boomers decisively dominate the body with 62 percent of the 435 members. Only the U.S. Senate is not a boomer bastion, but likely will be soon, given their current 46 percent share of the 100 Senate seats.
Among the states, New Jersey is heaviest with boomer politicians, who account for 66 percent of the lawmakers studied. North Dakota (64 percent), and West Virginia, Rhode Island and Utah (all 63 percent) follow. The most boomer-free states are Idaho, Alabama and North Carolina, where boomers claim just 40 percent of the top political jobs.
As more boomers ascend in the fast-approaching future, they will bring with them the opportunity to make the sort of difference many promised in their youth when they vowed to change the world. But can the country expect a new brand of government as leaders from America's most affluent and best-educated generation take over more hallways of power?
The answers are not yet clear. Political scientists, sociologists and popular culture experts say that, while their potential influence is huge, the generation is now, as it always has been, an agglomeration of political and demographic differences.
Bush and Clinton, who share few views, are both boomers. So are GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, 60 and conservative, and Democratic contender Barack Obama, 46 and liberal. (Obama is even aiming to be the candidate of a "new generation," displaying more commonality with Generation X than with his own.)
Those who have studied the boomer generation the longest say it is all but impossible to predict the imprint they will leave on America's political domain.
"It's uncharted territory," said Carol Orsborn(cq), co-chairman of Fleishman-Hillard's groundbreaking FH Boom global marketing practice devoted solely to baby boomer research. "We don't know yet what this generation will do."
Paul Light, a professor at New York University's Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, agreed.
"I think we're still short of a tipping point," said Light, who has studied the boomers' impact on government for more than 20 years.
These experts say the extraordinary social upheavals the boomers witnessed in their formative years have been tattooed on the psyches of many. The civil rights, women's and sexual revolutions; assassinations, drugs and space flight; Watergate, Woodstock and the war in Vietnam - all left their mark.
"Their perspective and life experiences are quite different from other following generations or prior generations," said Paul Hodge, who leads Harvard University's generation policy program.
Even so, the boomers are anything but a monochromatic mass. The Scripps analysis found an almost exact mirror image in political partisanship, with about half of the current leaders Democrats and half Republicans.
It also detected a distinct age divide within the generation itself. About 55 percent of the lawmakers who are part of the forward phalanx of the age group - those born between 1946 and 1954 - are Democrats, while 45 percent are Republicans, the survey showed.
But that Democratic tilt disappears among the later-blooming boomers (1955 to 1964), who reflect the rightward turn of the country during the Ronald Reagan era. Of those, 50 percent are Republicans and 49 percent Democrats.
"The front end is different from the back," Light said.
That does not mean there are no issues or interests shared by the early and late boomers which could translate into political change. Health care, pensions, age discrimination - these and similar universal concerns are certain to take a high profile.
A 2004 nationwide survey by AARP, an interest group focused on retiree and aging matters, found an array of common causes, even some that seem contradictory.
Solid majorities of boomers support abortion rights, the death penalty, gun control, stem cell research and fiscal conservatism. Nearly 60 percent believe the federal government has a responsibility to provide health care to all citizens. More than 70 percent say the government must protect the environment.
They also share a disaffection with government, with just 32 percent saying they trust leaders to do what is right most of the time. More than 55 percent say the country needs a strong third party. The boomers also are finding themselves growing more conservative as they age, have children and become comfortably middle-class.
Light, who wrote the 1988 book "Baby Boomers" about the generation and its politics, said boomer leaders and voters also are likely to find consensus over personal freedom and privacy issues - agreeing on the value of limiting government surveillance, for instance, and balking at attempts to legislate morality.
Orsborn, the author of 15 books on the boomers, sees other commonalities that could also impact governance. Boomers of all stripes prize self reliance, individuality, can-do optimism, tolerance, and a combination of skepticism toward government with a desire for civic engagement.
Whether all these proclivities - plus the generation's "we want it now" bent and its well-honed sense of entitlement - translate into a definable boomer approach to politics and government will surface over time, said Orsborn, herself a boomer.
Orsborn said she is deluged with calls seeking insights into what makes boomers tick.
"All of a sudden, everyone's interested," she said.
Whatever the impact boomers will have, it will likely last for years. The healthiest cohort to ever run the country is already redefining "old age," and showing no interest in going quietly into its golden years, Harvard's Hodge said.
"You're going to see people staying in office longer... because they are going to be in better shape and want to make some type of public commitment," he said.
Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.scrippsnews.com
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