At 22, I cast my first vote for president in 1972 for George McGovern. Since then I may have had to hold my nose a few times and occasionally cringe at the choices available for the highest office in the land. But still, I haven't missed casting a ballot on Election Day for 40 years. ∂ In many other areas of society, the electronic media for example, the prime demographic for success is the coveted 18- to 35-year-old, which explains why there is nothing on the television I care to watch and National Public Radio is pretty well all I listen to. ∂ If there is any advantage to collecting some rust around the fenders it may be the high esteem having an AARP card engenders among candidates for office. I am a demographic diva. These pols love me! They really, really love me! At least until Nov. 6.
Both Republicans and Democrats have their core constituencies. Republicans tend to skew more favorably among whites, males and rural residents. Democrats generally appeal to minorities, women and urban voters.
Depending on the election cycle, these groups can ebb and flow and sometimes certainly overlap. But one thing remains immutably true. Everybody ages. And the geezer crowd — my people — votes.
The Wall Street Journal has reported the share of votes cast by senior citizens rose dramatically to 21 percent in 2010, up from 15 percent in 2008. Or put another way, Americans over 65 only make up about 13 percent of the population, according to the most recent U.S. Census data, but they still influence more than 20 percent of the vote.
Why is that?
Well the facetious answer might be that getting up and going to the local precinct to cast a ballot may be the most exciting thing folks flirting with their last will and testament will do all day long.
Sociologists and political scientists probably have all sorts of explanations for the disproportionate numbers of senior voters. And they're probably right.
With apologies and all due respect to the whippersnapper community, I suspect older voters vote because: A) They care more and/or B) They are better informed on the issues at stake in a presidential election.
I could be wrong. But I'm old. Humor me.
Young voters turned out in droves to support Barack Obama in 2008, thinking perhaps they were electing an essence of cool-like Steve McQueen to the Oval Office. Then Obama actually started doing the job of president. This is called reality. And it didn't go over well.
By the 2010 midterm elections, the youth voter turnout dropped off by 60 percent, according to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement. Could it be that younger voters were more smitten with charisma than eye-glazing public policy debates over health care, taxes and foreign policy stuff? Whatever.
Senior voters have, I suspect, two distinct advantages over the more youthful citizen. First, by virtue of our age, we grew up in a time of greater civic engagement. We, and our older forebears, read newspapers, followed current events. Heck we were even taught history in school. How revolutionary.
Today, as a subset of the culture, most young people can't identify the three branches of government, the historical importance of Nov. 22, 1963, or name even a few U.S. Supreme Court justices. But they know the judges on American Idol.
Baby Boomers and older generations still read newspapers, still have a curiosity about what is going on in the world. Our successors are preoccupied with Facebook while alerting their "friends" where they just had a latte and deluding themselves into believing anybody cares.
And it might be argued the older one gets, the more personal many of the issues begin to loom. When I was casting that first ballot, topics like Social Security and Medicare were, at best, abstractions. After all, who's worrying about someday discovering a prostate the size of a casaba melon when you're 22?
As Election Day nears, so too, does a reminder that in another two short years the time will arrive for me to start the Byzantine process of filling out the paperwork for Medicare. Should I apply for Social Security now, or wait? Will it still even be there for me? And what in the heck is Medicare Part B?
I can't speak for my peers, but I also vote out of a genuine sense of obligation, even if the choices on the ballot are "The Bowery Boys" meet Jake and Elwood Blues.
I vote because all anyone has to do is visit Arlington National Cemetery and you'll find several hundred thousand reasons to fulfill one of the simplest, yet most profound exercises in citizenship asked of us.
It seems the least I can do for my country.