The Midterms and Gen-X Super Voters

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As the 2022 midterms head into their final stretch, various polls hold startling revelations about the future of American politics.

Baby Boomers, who have elected America’s governing class for the past thirty years, are evenly split on their partisan support for candidates. However, a New York Times/Sienna poll reveals that Gen-X voters favor Republican candidates by a 21-point margin. A Monmouth poll, taken during the same period, reveals that parents support Republican candidates by an astounding 35-point margin.

Most American households say they live in the suburbs. The suburbs are where families happen. Today, those families are anchored by Gen-X parents. With early-stage Gen-X’ers fantasizing about empty nesting and late-stage Gen-X’ers in the thick of parenthood, these voters aged 40-65 are about to become the most potent force in American politics: super voters.

A “super voter” is defined as an American who has voted in three or more of the past four elections. That includes primaries and general elections. This voting habit takes hold with most Americans when they reach this age cohort, presumably because they have achieved a socioeconomic position worth conserving.

How did a political shift of this magnitude happen so quickly? Remember, it was suburban voters who sent a Republican Congress packing in 2018 and elected Joe Biden in 2020.

When asked about their political views, typical suburbanites described themselves as “fiscally conservative, but socially moderate.” Emphasis on “but.”

Understanding what it means to be a “fiscal conservative” is easy. With two-thirds of Americans believing the country is on the wrong track and the midterm elections shaping up as a referendum on inflation and the economy, it’s easy to understand why suburbanites are flocking to the GOP. Things are not OK in the suburbs, where many are living paycheck to paycheck.

Unpacking what it means to be a “social moderate” requires more effort. The term reached prominence in the late 1990s, when suburbanites used it to distinguish themselves from the national GOP platform on gay marriage and abortion. The Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling in Obergefell vs. Hodges took gay marriage off the table as a political issue, but Democrats believe that the Court’s 2022 abortion decision in Dobbs vs. Jackson has handed them a potent political wedge issue.

Nearly two-thirds of suburbanites support abortion rights, but the issue does not rank among the top concerns of this midterm cycle. Recognizing that abortion will remain legal in most places, suburbanites have likely tabled the abortion debate; more pressing issues are affecting their families right now.

Those born between 1961 and 1981 were originally labeled “13’ers” by social scientists, who saw them as unlucky and star-crossed. Marketers settled on referring to them as “Gen-X,” with “X” symbolizing an unknown variable and undesirability.

Gen-X is the most aborted generation in American history, with one out of every three of its potential members having been aborted. Half of its parents are divorced or separated. Many were “latchkey kids,” fending for themselves after school. Now they are being asked to carry the burden of the largest government debt in history, bequeathed them by their parents.

It is easy to understand why Gen-X is cynical, skeptical, and scrappy.

In contrast to the absentee fashion in which many of them were raised, Gen-X parents are highly involved in their children’s upbringing and education. So much so, that they are sometimes derisively labeled “helicopter parents.”

Digging into recent headlines in suburban Philadelphia may provide some insight into why these parents are trending toward Republican candidates.

In suburban Quakertown, voters flipped a school board from a 7-2 Democrat majority to a 6-3 Republican majority in one election after learning that incumbent Democratic school board members attended a conference to integrate Critical Race Theory into the district’s policies and curricula. In exurban Lehigh County, emails reveal school administrators directing teachers to conceal from parents when their children choose to be re-gendered.

In the Borough of West Chester, home to Pennsylvania’s largest teaching college, elementary school teachers were trained by the school district to integrate sexuality curricula for kindergarteners. In the heart of Philadelphia’s toney Main Line, Great Valley parents struggle to remove pornographic and pedophilic material from the district’s libraries and curricula.

Children taught to judge by race. Secrets kept from parents. Sex taught to 5-year-olds. Sexually explicit material in homework.

These instances are not just limited to suburban Philadelphia. Gen-X parents are confronting them across America.

Political consultants refer to these as “80/20” issues, meaning 80% of voters are on your side. Such issues are rare.

Gen-X suburbanites may start using an updated description for themselves: “fiscally conservative, but socially sane.” Emphasis on sane. And they may have found a political party to carry their fight, potentially transforming American politics for generations.

Athan Koutsiouroumbas is a managing director at Long Nyquist and Associates and a former congressional chief of staff. Follow him on Twitter at @Athan_K.

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