This contrast was part of the overall racial divergence that defined the election, with Obama winning a combined 80 percent of minorities (who represented a record 28 percent of voters), and Romney capturing 59 percent of whites. But the distance between the brown and the gray is the point of that spear. "These are the major drivers of the future demography of the country and the future division of the country," says Frey, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. "This diverse growing millennial population versus the boomers who are moving into their senior years, largely white, and who have a ... view of America that is very different from the younger populations."
Those differences begin with social issues. Though nonwhite young people (especially African-Americans) aren't as socially liberal as younger whites, almost three-fifths of minorities under 30 supported gay marriage in a recent Pew Research Center survey; almost three-fifths of white seniors opposed it. Younger minorities (with some exceptions, again, among African-Americans) not surprisingly cheer the wave of immigration reshaping America; by contrast, in another Pew survey this year, three-fifths of white seniors agreed that the "growing number of newcomers from other countries threatens traditional American customs and values."
The role of government provokes the most explosive conflict. The aging white population has grown increasingly resistant to taxes and dubious of public spending on anything except the Social Security and Medicare programs that directly benefit them. Many of the gray bristle over federal transfer programs to the poor, yet they (incorrectly) view Social Security and Medicare as social insurance that they've pre-funded rather than as a subsidized entitlement. In sharp contrast, the minority population overwhelmingly views government investment in education, health, and safety-net programs as the best ladder of opportunity for themselves and their children. "While there's a lot of talk about the middle-class, it's the path to the middle class [that concerns] our community," Clarissa Martinez of the National Council of La Raza noted this week.
Today, Washington spends about $7 per senior for each $1 it spends on kids. Morley Winograd, coauthor of two books on the millennial generation, says that the new math of the Democratic electoral coalition will compel party leaders to shift spending from senior-oriented entitlements to programs, like pre-K education and student-loan relief, that benefit younger (and heavily minority) generations. Obama already took a rare step toward that rebalancing with his health care plan, which used Medicare savings to fund coverage for the working-age uninsured. The senior backlash against that step (stoked partly by a racially incendiary Romney campaign ad in which a narrator, over images of anxious white seniors, accused Obama of raiding Medicare to fund a program that's "not for you") helped drive Romney's huge advantage among older whites.