Will you still need me, will you still heed me, when you’re sixty-four?*
July 14th, 2011
These polls always display amazing support from young voters. Our opponents dismiss that: People get more conservative as they get older. They’ll change their minds. They’ll come to our side.
Many people do get more conservative as they age. Does that mean we’ll lose them? I’ve got two replies:
- It doesn’t matter.
I dove into the ABC/Washington Post poll, which compares results from March 2011 and October 2005 and breaks down the data by age. It’s pretty damn interesting. First, let’s deal with…
It doesn’t matter.
Support for marriage equality has increased in every age group from 2005 to 2011.
Now, this doesn’t tell us whether we’re losing people as they age. When you compare, say 30-39-year-olds in 2005 and 2011, you’re not comparing the same demographic group. The older half of 2005’s 30-39ers aged up into the 40-49 group by 2011, and were replaced by 2005’s older 20-29ers.
But it doesn’t matter. Even if we were losing some individuals as they age, we’re still making inroads into every age group. According to ABC/WP’s data, we’ve gone deep enough to gain a majority across the population, with momentum on our side.
Still, I would like to know what’s happening in people’s heads as they get older. Are we losing them? I can’t be sure, but I think the answer is…
I wish this data were broken into five-year cohorts (30-34, 35-39, 40-44, etc.). That would better match the five-and-a-half-year period between surveys: 2005’s 30-34-year-olds would become 2011’s 35-39ers, and we could see how they had changed.
But we’re stuck with these ten-year cohorts. That means about half of 2005’s 30-39ers have aged into 2011’s 40-49er group. Let’s make the best of it and compare those numbers.
This chart compares each 2005 cohort with its aged-up 2011 counterpart.
That’s pretty cool. Except for the oldest respondents, each group in 2011 was more supportive than its younger neighbor in 2005. (And that oldest group spans more years than any other, possibly making it less susceptible to change.) So in other words:
For the most part, older people are more supportive of marriage equality in 2011 than younger people were in 2005.
Of course, this on the sloppy side, the result of wrestling with whatever data’s available. To do this right, we’d want a long-term longitudinal survey, asking a large sample of the same people year after year, preferably with the marriage equality question buried among a bunch of other issues covered by the survey.
That being said, I’d still like to point out this startling result:
Do you see that?
50-64-year-olds today aren’t just more supportive than 50-64-year-olds five years ago…
…or 40-49-year-olds five years ago…
…but are even more supportive than 30-39-year-olds five years ago!
That’s amazing. And it makes it hard to believe we’re losing people as they age. They may get more conservative (I don’t have data on that) but they’re not abandoning us. In fact, they’re joining us. That makes sense. Every year you live is another year you might meet more real, live gay people, decent folk to knock out the demonizing anti-gay stereotypes most of us grew up with.
Lord, I’d love more data. If anyone has other surveys conducted over time and broken down by age, please send them to me.
One last note.
Some people look at these surveys and say, We just have to wait for the bigots to die. Ugh. A gay commenter on another blog made an angry point along the lines of, I’ve been fighting for equality since the 60s. When you’re waiting for the older generation to die, you’re waiting for me to die. I fought too hard for too long — and you’re reaping too many benefits — for me to put up with that bullshit.
We don’t have to wait for anyone to die. And we don’t have to dismiss any generation as bigots. That’s what these numbers tell us. We can reach every age group. We can fight for everyone’s equality, no matter how old they are, no matter how old we are, and we can do it today.
*With deepest apologies to Lennon/McCartney.