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The myth of the dying voters

A twenty year old political truism has being exposed in the saga of what John Key said to John Banks over a cafe table.

The idea is that there is a group of embittered voters over 60 years of age, and that this group is dying out. The concept is not only wrong, it is patronising of the values of many people, and ignorant of what motivates voters.

The myth rose among the political classes over the 1990s. I recall hearing it, as a young press secretary, told as a consoling tale among Labour MPs at the start of that decade. 

This group are said to be embittered by age, and disaffected by a working life that was largely low-income and hit by successive recessions and radical political policies. Political cliques say this group tends to be nationalistic, and haters of the poor and of the rich. The story is that they are like this because they are poorly educated (or not smart) and unworldy (from small towns). Thus, they are regarded as supporters of Winston Peters.

The myth holds that ‘fortunately’ this group is diminishing over time because they are dying. It is repeated by politicians to each other, and by political pundits.

It is a myth because humans are psychologically pre-disposed toward different perspectives on life. Even if supporters of Winston Peters are dying off, supporters of his brand of political and social thinking will remain a feature of society. ‘Conservative’ ideas are not unique to a particular cohort or age bracket.

Some of the simpler expressions of the concept claim that age has embittered this group, but they’re dying out. Well, older people are not dying out - they are increasing in numbers. although older age can generate a very small shift acress the spectrum toward conservatism, the bigger impacts on attitudes are experiences while yery young, and the attitudes of parents.

Those who express the myth are really using it as a way of elevating their own belief set. They are saying that their attitudes are superior to expressions of nationalism, and cynicism toward corporate and financial life.

Politicians who want to believe that these ideas are dying out are very mistaken, and by pretending they don’t exist, are missing out on the votes of a significant cross section of society. 

Filed under political strategy voters political myth older voters retirement ideology voter beliefs voting psychology voter psychology