Senior Voters as Women

Women’s issues may be an increasingly important factor in determining which politicians appeal to senior citizens

My maternal grandmother was the pluperfect Pittsburgh Republican. She believed in God (quietly), small government, thrift, self-sufficiency and Mellon Bank, where she worked for 35 years. If further GOP cred were needed, she had it from her cousin being Senator John Heinz. But then J. Danforth Quayle came unbidden into her political life.

When Quayle asserted that a pregnant little girl who was raped by her father should not be allowed to have an abortion, my grandmother didn’t exactly “go apes**t”, because the strongest curse word that gentle and dignified woman ever uttered was “pshaw”. But the incident had a profound effect, leading her to turn her back on George H.W. Bush even though he nearly perfectly mirrored her political views. President Bush had chosen “that horrible man” to be the vice-president of her country and that was not in her eyes forgivable.

My grandmother would not have used the term but she was a feminist of her generation, believing that there should be no infringements on women’s decisions about career, marriage, divorce, sex and childbearing. Such sentiments only become more prevalent in subsequent generations of American women.

I suspect that changes in attitudes among and about women are not being weighed sufficiently in analyses of senior citizens’ voting patterns, which tend to lump all seniors together, for example by assuming that the elderly’s only political interests are Social Security and Medicare. Senior citizens comprise a higher proportion of women than any other age group, and female senior citizens vote at higher rates than any other demographic group. It therefore seems plausible that as feminist attitudes have become broadly accepted among older women (even if they do not call themselves feminists) this may introduce new dynamics into voting patterns among the elderly, particularly as a number of male politicians seem to have a hard time shutting up about “legitimate rape”, divinely intended pregnancy from rape and mandatory vaginal ultrasounds.