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The Age of Leadership: Generational Transitions.

In recent days, we commented on youth power in Lebanon and elsewhere.

Now, how about a look at America's leadership?

LifeCourse Associates
has researched the ages of America's leaders over the years, dating back to the very beginning of the nation. Some interesting factoids from their research:

In what years did the "Lost Generation" of World War I vets (the peers of Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Truman, and Eisenhower) comprise more than half of America's governors and members of Congress? (Answer: 1939 through 1951.) When did the G.I. Generation, also known as America’s World War II-winning “Greatest Generation,” reach its high-watermark of political representation? (Answer: 1965.) In what year did Boomers first achieve a generational plurality of national leaders? (Answer: 1997.)

Click graph for larger version.

It's amazing just how consistent the rises and falls of each generation are.


The circle of life, political-style, is on full display in American political history. As generations age, they pass the political torch to the next generation, which eventually passes the torch to the next generation, like clockwork.

One aspect of age cohort leadership LifeCourse did not address is the issue of partisan differences between and among the generations. In 2004, exit polls indicated the only age group to vote for John Kerry over George W. Bush was the 18-29 group. Generally, younger people are considered to be more liberal, perhaps less Republican, than older people.

Among America's elected public leadership, at least, this is not the case; younger politicians are somewhat more likely to be Republicans, while older politicians are more likely to be Democrats.

The youngest and oldest:



The youngest member of the House of Representatives is Patrick McHenry, a North Carolina Republican. Born in 1975, he won his first Congressional election with nearly 2/3 of the vote this past November.


Florida Republican Adam Putnam is only slightly older, born in 1974. When he was first elected in 2000, he was only 26 years old; Putnam is now a relative veteran, having just won his second reelection this past November.

Putnam, on election night in 2000:


Texas Democrat Ralph Hall, born in 1923.


Ralph Hall is a good example of a fairly conservative oldschool Democrat who just never switched parties. He even proudly displays a picture of himself with President Bush on his website.

The Ralph Halls of the country are rapidly passing away, and in their absence, we'll probably see an even more polarized country, based on partisan lines.

Age Cohort Broken Down By Party-


Generation X (1961-1981)
29 Republicans (58%)
21 Democrats (42%)

Boom (1943-1960)
151 Republicans (55%)
124 Democrats (45%)

Silent (1925-1942)
48 Republicans (45%)
58 Democrats (54%)
1 Independent (1%)

GI (1901-1924)
2 Republicans (67%)
1 Democrat (33%)



New Hampshire Republican John Sununu, born in 1964.


John Sununu is not exactly "young," but for the Senate, which is now older than it has ever been, he represents the most youthful member of the "greatest deliberative body in the world."


West Virginia Democrat Robert C. Byrd, born in 1917.


Byrd's story is interesting. A former KKK member, Byrd has remained in power, even as his state has become solidly Republican, by delivering amazing amounts of federal contracts and other pork barrel back to West Virginia.

Age Cohort Broken Down By Party-


Generation X (1961-1981)
3 Republicans (60%)
2 Democrats (40%)

Boom (1943-1960)
29 Republicans (58%)
21 Democrats (42%)

Silent (1925-1942)
22 Republicans (55%)
17 Democrats (43%)
1 Independent (2%)

GI (1901-1924)
1 Republican (20%)
4 Democrats (80%)



Missouri Republican Matt Blunt, born in 1970.


First elected Missouri's Secretary of State in 2000, Matt Blunt has a unique story:

On October 9, 2001, he became the first statewide elected official in the history of Missouri to be called into active military duty. Blunt served for six months in support of Operation Enduring Freedom-the nation's military response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.


Alaska Republican Frank Murkowski, born in 1933.


Somewhat ironically, Murkowski, in 1966, at age 33, became Alaska's youngest public official, as Commissioner of Economic Development. It is also interesting that the oldest Governor in America is only 72-years-old, given the increasing life expectancy in the United States.

Age Cohort Broken Down By Party-


Generation X (1961-1981)
1 Republican (50%)
1 Democrat (50%)

Boom (1943-1960)
23 Republicans (56%)
18 Democrats (44%)

Silent (1925-1942)
4 Republicans (57%)
3 Democrats (43%)

GI (1901-1924)
0 Republicans
0 Democrats


It is also important to note that the overal average age of America's political leadership has risen significantly over the years, accordingly with longevity.


Click graph for larger version.


It is definitely noteworthy that in both the House and Senate the younger generations have more Republicans in positions of leadership, while the older generations tend to have more Democrats. This holds true among Boomer-generation Governors, too, a group with 12% more Republicans than Democrats. A generalization we can make with some confidence is that the younger generations of American political leaders tend to be more Republican in nature.

America's generational political gap underscores the causes of the recent Republican realignment. As we noted in a recent Trivia Tidbit, nearly half of the American electorate is replaced every 20 years. As FDR's New Deal generation passes away, the Democrats will have to piece together a new electoral coalition if they want to remain competitive. Although Democrats were heartened by the youth vote going their way in 2004, as if this means they are "still in the game" for the long-term, we have a hunch that this age cohort is more conservative than people give it credit for and could have gone either way, but because of misguided concerns about a draft, stoked by groups like Rock the Vote, the elite media, and the Kerry campaign, the youth vote broke slightly for the Massacusetts Senator.

The Baby Boomers are just now hitting their stride in political leadership, and they will likely remain a force for the next couple of decades. The Boomers have an opportunity to leave the most profound and enduring generational imprint on American political history, much like the massive Transcendental (1792-1821) and Missionary (1860-1882) generations, all post-war generations. In the meantime, the torch will pass, ever gradually, to the just-emerging Generation X.

Stay tuned to WILLisms.com for more on the partisan and ideological differences between and among generations.

Posted by Will Franklin · 1 April 2005 10:05 AM


I believe the threats of a draft contributed greatly to the young voting in greater numbers for Kerry, due in great part to the fears drummed up by the youth and main stream media, as analysis by Willisms suggests. As a member of the baby boomers, I hope our huge size allows us to do well by future generations and not ill.

Posted by: Bill at April 1, 2005 03:35 PM

Kerry and Edwards are such nerds...It always made me kind of wonder about them, the way Edwards would look at Kerry it seemed as if there was a very Special type of relationship ! Not that there is anything wrong with that....Also I did enjoy the fact that Mrs. Kerry was African American...I don't know but I think they had to make up lies about the draft just so they could get enough votes to keep counting them after the election was over just to keep in the spotlight!

Posted by: Zsa Zsa at April 2, 2005 05:35 PM

I might not represent the whole of Europe, but at least a part of Europe's critical minds. All your stories and statistics lead to one simple word: "sad".

Posted by: Luc at April 3, 2005 05:35 PM

Well Luc you don't have to read it!
As for the question on the article does the 1981-1990 generation have a name yet?

Posted by: Carly Franklin at April 12, 2005 08:52 PM

Generation Y, most likely.

Posted by: Will Franklin at April 12, 2005 08:54 PM

I wouldn't be overly concerned about the youth's vote for Kerry in 2004.

The young are experienced and believe what they've been told in school: unions are virtuous institutions, minorities are repressed & therefore affirmative action is fair, a higher minimum wage improves living standards, & that enviromental issues are black and white.

They'll grow up and switch sides when they realize how free markets, and capitalism really are the deeper, truer, but more difficult choice.

This is coming from a former Democrat

Posted by: Carolynn at April 19, 2005 09:30 PM

I am very concerned about todays youth, and the disinformation they are being fed by the right wing media. Oh yes the liberal media is another falacy that is constantly being preached. In fact about 10 large media companies control close to 90% of all broadcast media in this country and these companies are all strong right wing republican supporters. If todays youth would read more both from American sources and foreign newspapers they would be much better informed about the crap that is being shoved down our throats by the republican/right wing ideologes.

Posted by: Flash at May 15, 2005 02:45 PM

I would imagine more dead people and Felons voted for Kerry than we will ever know!...If the Dems. don't do something about reforming Social Security not many young people will be too thrilled about voting for another Democrat real soon!

Posted by: Zsa Zsa at May 18, 2005 09:51 PM