Dispelling the Myth of the Liberal Baby Boomers

by Troy M. Olson

Most of my political mentors are Baby Boomers, many of them would be considered politically left of center in America. However, the boomer generation is not a liberal generation, and never really was, especially in comparison to the so-called more “conservative” Generation X and of course, the Millennial generation.

Absent protesting the Vietnam War and voting for McGovern in 1972, I would argue that the Baby Boomers were never really liberal in any meaningful way. First of all, their support for McGovern was very much tied to his opposition to Vietnam, which by that election had dragged on for nearly a decade while many young people at the time faced the reality of the draft.

Foreign policy and international relations cannot be properly categorized by a left – right political spectrum, and often today, just comes down to mere partisanship. Therefore, protesting and opposing an abstract, perpetual, unwinnable war that you could be drafted into fighting against your will at any point isn’t a liberal value, or a conservative value, it was simply a basic human self preservation instinct.

Vietnam is culturally one of the most enduring symbols of Boomer liberalism in America. Opposing the Vietnam War has little to do with liberal values anymore than eventually opposing the Iraq War makes everyone a revisionist Democrat around 2008. Boomers have consistently been a self-identifying, “conservative” generation.

Self Identification by Generation

This is not a case of the Boomers getting more conservative with age either, another popular myth that has no basis in fact. Political ideology is actually quite static over time. Over the course of twenty years according to Gallup, the ideological spread has been just 4 for Baby Boomers. Between the four generations in the Gallup survey, only Generation X has shown any significant degree of political volatility within their self-identified ideology.

Generational Political Ideology

Perhaps the only significant indicator of the Boomer generation by this self-identifying measure is that an already conservative generation has arguably becommore conservative during the Obama era. Marriage equality, no matter your political stripes, has been a defining issue whether you are a foot soldier in Bill O’Reilly and the Fox News “culture war” or morally see it as the “Civil Rights” issue of our time.

Pew Graph on 2015 SSM by Generation

Since 2005, Millennial support for marriage equality has grown by 24 percent, Gen X support has grown by 15 percent, and Silent generation’s support has grown by 16 percent. Lagging behind in support, even with the lead up to this summer’s landmark Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, is the Baby Boomers with 9 percent. In other words, your grandparents may have come around on your same-sex marriage lately, but your parents are more likely to not be so sure.

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