Wednesday 18 October 2017

The middle-aged are less conservative and more radical

The 40 to 50-year-olds

Ballot Box
Ballot Box
Jody Corcoran

Jody Corcoran

Convention has it that political attitudes change in predictable ways when people advance through the life cycle. They become more conservative as they age, it is said, when the pace of life is intentionally slowed to a more natural progression.

The middle-aged have always had a tendency to consider what they their life has been, what they wished it to be and, of course, what it can still become.

A recent survey for this newspaper found just 15 per cent of 40-somethings felt their lives had turned out, more or less, as they had imagined when they were younger. There is something desperately poignant about that finding.

On a personal level, the next election will contain more interest than is usual for me in that my son will cast his vote for the first time.

I expect we will walk to the polling station together, me and my 18-year-old self. In general, he is knowledgeable. How could he or his generation not be these past few years? He tells me he is leaning towards voting for an Independent candidate.

Political researchers have long since concluded that young people are not sufficiently engaged in politics, but I'm not so sure that is true anymore, or if it ever was as true as they would have you believe.

As a nation, citizens, young and old, have been force-educated these past few years, particularly those middle-aged, who have borne the brunt, and their children who have come of age in the age of austerity. I expect there will be symbiosis of sorts at work here, at the polling booth, between the middle-aged and the young.

The age of austerity has turned on its head most things once taken as read, not least that the middle-aged tend to become more conservative as they grow older. As I look around me, among friends, the search is still for a radical centre that refuses to come into sharper focus.

That survey, by Behaviour & Attitudes conducted over a year ago, had a raft of grim findings: it highlighted the concerns of 40-somethings in getting from one day to the next; how the downturn had a negative effect on their physical health; how they had become quite depressed due to the pressures.

Despite that, there was hope: three-quarters of 40-somethings - the lost generation, squeezed middle, coping classes, or whatever they are referred to as these days - felt Ireland needed to start believing in herself again.

If nothing else, they will vote for that feeling, or belief; for the renewal of what has always been a hope through the ages that the lives of their 18-year-old selves will turn out to be as they imagine them to be.

John Drennan's Guide to Politics - Spring 2015

The next election will change your life. In a special supplement with the Sunday Independent, John Drennan presents his guide to Irish politics.

Sunday Independent

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