The Saeculum Decoded
A Blog by Neil Howe
Nov 102012

Three further thoughts about ’12, in no particular order.

First, I mentioned that the positive correlation between voter age and Romney share definitely showed up, as predicted. Without exception, every age bracket identified by the exit polls had a higher Romney share than the age bracket beneath it and a lower Romney share than the age bracket above it.

Yet there is one particular age-cleft that I have often discussed in past posts and that I would like to highlight here: the stark contrast between first-wave Xers in their 40s (more conservative, came age with Reagan) and last-wave Xers in their 30s (more progressive, came of age with Clinton).  In the following table, I list the additional share of each age group that went to Romney as you move to each older age group:

Note that the jump in the preference for the GOP from last- to first-wave Gen Xers is larger by far than between any other two adjacent age brackets.  Last-wave Xers voted for Obama by 55 to 42 percent.  First-wave Xers voted for Romney by 50 to 48 percent. That’s an 8-point swing.

If the exit poll had a finer-grained measure of the Boomer age brackets, we might even be able to detect a backward bend toward Obama as you move from first-wave Xers in their late 40s to first-wave Boomers in their late 60s.  We’ve often seen that in prior elections and party ID surveys.

Second, I’ve read some excellent reader answers (both in comments and by emails) to the questions I raised about the stunning swing of Asians to Obama. More than one reader pointed out that it may be less due to any special Asian animus against Romney and more with their special attraction to Obama. If so, this may pose special problems for the Democrats in 2016, especially if they go with someone older and whiter. Morley Winograd told me that the Asian swing took him by surprise as well. He thinks part it was partly due to very well organized get-out-the-vote campaigns among young minorities, Asians especially, and the effective use of social media. Many Gangnam-style vote videos went viral, and several have been posted on youtube.  Let me show one of them here (from Atlanta’s Asian-American Legal Advocacy Center):

Third, one reader made the interesting observation that however well Romney did among whites overall, Obama still managed to take a number of white-dominated New England states like New Hampshire, Maine, and Vermont. A great point, because the flip side is that outside New England and the blue-zone coasts, and especially in the red-zone south, the state-wide white shares for the GOP are even more lopsided, in the 65 to 75 percent range.  It’s hard to say exactly, because the exit-poll media consortium chose not to include any deep-south states.  But if you look at many of the more rural counties in Texas, for example, you find most of them are 80+ percent for Romney, which may translate into close to 90 percent whites for Romney.

When I occasionally talked to friends in Texas earlier this year, some were amazed that Obama might be re-elected since they literally did not know anyone who intended to vote for him. I know others in blue-zone enclaves who have felt the same amazement, in reverse.

I find this growing alignment of geography and ideology to be a very disturbing trend as America moves further into a 4T. There was much talk in ’08 about the emergence of a “purple” America.  What I see, in ’12, is redder reds is some parts and bluer blues in others.  Could political regionalism or outright separatism be looming in our not-too-distant future?  While many of us may think we already resolved that issue in the 1860s, my late co-author Bill Strauss had his doubts and once even wrote a futuristic novel about a dis-integrated America. Let us hope we never go there.

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  • Richardboomer

    “Bill Strauss had his doubts and once even wrote a futuristic novel about a dis-integrated America.”

    I can not find this. Was it published?
    He wrote a dissertation proposal in 2004 that I found online that I will read.

  • jj cc

    Neil, any thoughts on the massive amount of Doomsday/zombie type shows that have been gaining in (mainstream) popularity over the past year or so?

    Doomsday Preppers
    Take Shelter
    Walking dead
    Falling skies (alien takeover)


    Interestingly, from 2000-2009 there were almost twice as many doomsday shows as in any other decade. 16 alone from 2010 -2011.

    “dis-integrated America.” not real hard to believe with gun sales at epic levels and people a little jittery.. would like to read that novel also.

  • Joe

    On the other hand almost all extreme Tea Party whackos were soundly defeated. This speaks to the electorate’s moderation from 2010. Even the former lady Republican candidate “My husband commanded my to become a candidate” (sic!) was almost defeated by an unknown Democrat. There is hope after all. Now we need to look for regeneracy, particularly in the most pressing area: income inequality. We need a new labor movement and a general policy shift away from favoring corporations and the uber-rich to favoring the middle class.

  • Max Wood


    It seems that your former partner may have been on to something with succession thoughts. There are a couple of books that come to mind that lay the groundwork for the red state/blue state phenomena and the major differences in beliefs of the respective residents.

    The first is Albion’s Seed, by David Hackett Fisher ( That book describes how the folks (English) that settled here in the 1600’s migrated here from the same regions in England and settled into respective regions once they arrived here (VA, MA, PA, etc.). Those regions pretty much mirror those early settlement patterns to this very day. The “folkways” and beliefs in these regions have always been different and it shows today in those regions and in the migration patterns away from those regions.

    The other book is, The Cousins Wars, by Kevin Phillips ( His theory is very similar but he goes on to hypothesize that the English Civil War, American Revolution and our Civil War were all driven (and defended) by many of the same people who shared common beliefs in each of those battles and that those battles were, for the most part, a continuation of one another. So, it is not a stretch to see another.

    Although, I have never believed the 4T would be a repeat of 1861 it does fall in the cycle and we know there are others who are driven to organize and sign petitions (64,000 in Texas) and are motivated to take action. And, they are not all in the south. I still do not expect a breakup to be our 4T but there are clearly others who believe (and wish) it would happen.

    • Yes, both books are excellent. True believers on both sides claim to find life under “the enemy” intolerable. In each of the last four elections there have been media stories about Democrats who vow to move to Canada if GW or McCain or Romney wins. On the red zone side, the impulse is less to become an expatriate–and more to secede… as we are now seeing. A great stir was created last year by the publication is the following article in The Small Wars Journal, which shows that serious people are really thinking through 4T scenarios. See:

      • Max Wood

        Thanks for sending over the link to Small Wars. I only hope that is NOT the generally accepted thought of the majority of our military officers and planners! We could be in worse shape than I thought.

      • pbrower2a

        Fischer had his maps of American elections… and it is remarkable that Barack Obama in 2008 won only one state (barely) that Dwight Eisenhower did not win in either 1952 and 1956… and lost that state in 2012 (also barely). It is also noteworthy that Ike won three states (Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Rhode Island) that Republicans have never won together in any election beginning in 1960 — but won all three of those states twice. (Fischer’s book came out before 2008.

  • I think the polarization will remain intense. If you read Nate Silver’s (yes — that Gen-x slacker who wrote personal computer programs on company time, won at internet poker and now is an electoral whiz) new book, “The Signal and the Noise”, one of the more interesting observations he makes it that advances in information technology have historically led to serious and deep conflicts before being used for enlightenment. Essentially, idealogues use the new technologies to rally their forces around their viewpoints by cherry-picking the facts that support them and blasting them out in ways that were not possible in the past. Thus, as Silver points out, the printing press led to some serious religious warfare before books were used more for learning and dissemination of knowledge.

    With the rise of the internet, there has been an extreme fragmentation of the media where people — particularly of the Boomer set, but others — literally view the world through a different reality than others. This new media, exemplified by Fox and MSNBC and magnified by the internet, essentially are creating feedback loops where people are fed what they want hear which further reinforces their beliefs, leading to further polarization.

    For Republicans, this now may have backfired. In particular, the conservative media seems to play more of a leadership role than Republican candidates, who seem to take their cues from the outlets. More people hear Bill O’Reilly than ever heard Mitt Romney. Meanwhile, the Jon Stewarts of the world have turned some of those outlets into cartoons that Gen-Xers and Millennials laugh at. This bleeds back to their view of the candidates. In addition, every gaffe is muliplied in ways that were unthinkable 15 years ago. I think some were evern surprised when MItt Romney turned out NOT to be a cartoon in the first debate.

    Yet ultimately, the media is looking for loyal viewers/listeners that will buy sponsors’ products and not a majority of voters like political parties, which puts their ultimate interests at odds. The Democrats have not suffered the same fate (yet) because their traditional media outlets are frankly not as popular (MSNBC) or are dying (like print newspapers).

    While you’ve looked at the presidential elections, the outcomes in the states on the gay marriage, legalization of marijuana, and the take-over of California by one party may be more portentious markers of what is likely to come, at least in blue-leaning states and the majority of the country, which will leave large angry minorities in the old south and rural west. I see this getting worse before it gets better, if only because people live longer than they used to. I also see the Republicans having a hard time recovering very quickly as a national party unless they start sounding more libertarian. That kind of message is very attractive to younger people of different races and genders.

    I’d be surprised if there is a regeneracy before 2020. Oddly, what may lead to it may be the oil/shale gas boom in the U.S., which would allow the government to pay for its programs again due to both increased economic activity and higher taxes.

    In the meantime, don’t be surprised if there are not more domestic terrorism cases and mass shootings and/or attempted assassinations, leading to a reactive acceptance of more governmental controls. But the Millennials won’t care — they are used to being their own publicists and having everyone watching them already!

    • Max Wood

      Frank, Good post. I fully agree there will not be a regeneracy before 2020. In fact, it may be well into the next generational cycle before things begin to improve. I believe that is supported by 4T theory. As best I can tell we still have not seen the 4T “catalyst event” and it is sure due about now. There are clearly many candidates to choose from today for that event. Our times are unfolding exactly as was written in T4T almost 15 years ago! The return to any kind of normalcy from the previous three 4T’s in this country did not happen quickly. If you assume a catalyst occurs in the middle of 4T then we have at least 10 years from that event. Certainly, the nation did not return to anything like normal after the Civil War – at least in the south – or from the crash in 29 that lead on to the Great Depression.

      It seems to me that based on Neil’s analysis in this post the generational demographics that bring about a Republican or even libertarian governance model are not very likely. That is, from the view outlined in the generational voting chart in his post. Add to that the ethnic changes in our country with organic growth (fertility rate) vs. the lack of same in the current majority demographic (whites) and then layer on immigration (legal and illegal) with the general changes in ethnicity of the country, I’m not certain we will ever see anything like the country we have grown up in. In other words, a changing of the guard. The current ethnic groups have a different set of ideas, folkways and culture than the old. That is where we are headed and it seems to fit with a big government mindset. I believe that is what we saw a week or so ago.

      Even disregarding the above, look at heritage of the current majority population across the Atlantic. Western Europe (actually, Europe in general) may be a cycle or two ahead of us and see where they stand today. They are clearly spinning down into a morass.

      Some may think all of this is a good idea. Others think the cliff is real and we are marching to the edge and getting closer and closer with each passing day. The latter surely fits with the catalyst of T4T if you believe that to be true. I certainly do!

      • I have to say that I only picked up on the Generational model-view of history a couple years ago, but I have been impressed by its broad applicability. I see seeds of it everywhere — which could be my owned biased filtering mechanism, but I think not. That Silver book I mentioned is interesting not only for its content, but for Silver’s free-agent Gen-x bio himself. Heck, he didn’t give a whit about elections until Congress killed his golden goose by making most internet poker illegal. He could have been a character in “Fight Club” or “Office Space.” And he really goes hard on Boomer-aged “experts” for seeing things through values-colored glasses.

        I also recently read the new memoir of Benoit Mandelbrot (the famous mathematician who invented fractal geometry), who follows the pattern of a Hero — Greatest Generation child of Lost Generation parents. You see how his parents literally fight and scramble for their family’s survival by escaping Poland just before WWII and the hiding out in rural France after Paris falls under assumed identities while they have to make and remake their lives. His father makes it until after the war and then dies in the early 1950s, as if his work is done. Then the young Mandelbrot matures late, struggles to find work early (there are no jobs for the Heros — just like today), but eventually is swept up into the boom of the new high and ends up at IBM in a “pure research” department, one of the archetypes of the new conformity and popular devotion to science in 1960. (That department is later dismantled in the unravelling ot the 1990s).
        Sorry I went off topic, but it was uncanny how that pattern in that book, which has nothing to do with Strauss & Howe, neatly follows the generational pattern. And many other things — like these election results.

    • Enjoyed your comments very much. In my life time I have never worried about assassinations as much as I do now.

    • Shawn Aune

      The oil/shale bubble will have popped by 2020. Resource and energy scarcity will play a major role in the next regeneracy just as it is playing a major role in this crisis period leading to it.

  • Carla

    Neil, I’m surprised that you haven’t linked the generational results of the election with Obama’s strong message, backed by solid policies and accomplishments, that “we are in this together.” (If you did write about this, I didn’t see it.) I think this message and practice is powerful and resonates with many, and it has been an important policy issue, as opposed to ideals and principles. I’m a Boomer white female, and I think that we Boomers and Silents did a lot to raise GenXers and Millennials who have a grasp on the fact that our great strengths as Americans have been most evident when we combine American individualism and liberty with American communitarianism and cooperation..

    I haven’t seen or heard any evidence that supports your theory of minorities shying away from Romney on account of his Mormon religion. Really, the people I’m most in touch with aren’t considering religion as much of a factor in a president

    • pbrower2a

      Romney got into electoral trouble as he exposed himself as a ‘mirror-image Marxist’ — the sort of person who recognizes capitalism as a corrupt, inequitable, despotic, exploitative, and dehumanizing order beyond any potential for reform — differing from a Marxist only in endorsing what others see as the vices of capitalism. The Marxist can ordinarily present himself operating out of conscience or at the least indignation; someone like Romney becomes a contemptible stereotype among enough people.

      America might have been ready for an entrepreneur to shake the ‘tax-and-spend’ government to the core if he had been associated with business activities more admirable than ‘vulture capitalism’. Had he been involved in creating a high-tech start-up company, a trendy retailer, or real-estate development (whoops! Dubya ruined that!) instead of replacing well-paid workers and draining assets from cash cows he might have won. The liberal wave of 2006-2008 had retreated.

      We are in a Crisis Era, and if other Crises indicate anything it is that we Americans sort out the failures that special interests most cherish first before we find something that works.

  • I live in (reportedly) the reddest state of all: Oklahoma. What absolutely stunned me was that I noticed shock and dismay among my conservative friends on FB after the election. They were posting about how shocked and devastated they were that Obama won. They did not think he had even a slim chance of re-election. One person I know who is actually very bright supposed that Oprah and the Kennedys were “noticeably silent” during the election. When I pointed out that Oprah was a divisive character and was probably silenced from within the campaign, these intelligent Rs actually said she was just running in shame. How could smart people be so out of touch with reality? There were a lot of people in Oklahoma completely reeling over the election results. Later, they gushed that the once-blue part of our state known as Little Dixie was no more b/c they’d elected an R for the first time to the State House. The last bastion for Democrats now colored red. So, I don’t really understand what the future might hold. I keep thinking that as time passes and Millennials age, we’ll see more blue in Oklahoma. Am I kidding myself? 33 percent of Okies voted for Obama. That pejorative, Okie, by the way, has enjoyed new popularity among younger generations. The once derogatory term now appears on bumper stickers.

    • pbrower2a

      Voters may have been voting more on cultural affinity than on economic interests. “culture” often relates to religion and region, and people have gravitated to like-minded groups.

      Have people become less mobile?

  • Wiz83


    Since women’s issues turned out to be quite prominent in this past election, I thought I would post this interesting clip that show’s how Millennial women may view feminism. It has Raising Hope actress Shannon Woodward (b. 1984) doing a PSA speaking out for women’s rights and women’s health and the perceived attacks on them by right-wing politicians. Basically, when it comes to women’s rights, Millennial women want to protect what their Boomer mothers fought for during the last Awakening and safeguard it.

    Anyway, here is the clip:

  • pbrower2a

    For the first wave of Generation X, the Cold War was a reality. They remember the Evil Empire having the word Socialist in its official name. For the last wave, the Evil Empire became the struggling, dying near-ally. Such made a difference between smears of socialism in any form and near-silence about economic ideologies.

    The older part of Generation X got to see a fading part of the American dream before Dubya became President. The later wave of the generation could only get burned (if not as badly as the Millennial Generation). Socialistic policies, if not the word socialism, became much more attractive after Dubya made a shambles of American capitalism.

  • pbrower2a

    One point worth noting — Republicans have done badly among non-white, non-Anglo, non-Christian, and non-straight members of the middle class in the last two Presidential elections. For several decades one expected trait for those assimilating into the American dream tended to assimilate into right-wing politics as proof of the solidity of middle-class status. But that ended around 2005.

    Such non-white, non-Anglo, non-Christian, and non-straight members of the middle class may see their middle-class shaky. For blacks, Asians (whether Pakistanis or Koreans), and Hispanics, middle-class status is generally new, and it depends heavily upon formal education that Republican politicians deride so that they can pander to poor Southern white people — or upon ownership and operation of small businesses that giant enterprises owned by rich white people can squeeze into oblivion with the ruin of their owners. American Jews may seem like the most stable part of the American middle class on the surface, but they know that they are vulnerable to any religious bigotry, anti-intellectualism, and selective contempt for business. Know well that German Jews were the definitive “model majority” in Germany before 1933, and look at what their success did for them. Fascists butcher middle-class competition with aristocratic elites on behalf of those elites, but they leave the submissive toilers alone so long as those acquiesce in their exploitation. Exploiters need cheap labor to exploit and invariably protect it from genocide.

    Republicans would have been wise to stick to the old model of conservative success with emphases on thrift, toil, enterprise, learning, and self-reliance instead of recklessness, cronyism, inequality, brutal management, and contempt for education. They may be foisting the old conservative virtues onto Barack Obama and his Democratic successors.

    A hint: those old conservative values work. I predict that we Americans will go back to them for a lack of alternatives.