Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton—excoriated by the right-wing media as a radical and a socialist—scored exceptionally well among the richest Americans, winning almost exactly half the votes of those who earn more than $250,000 per year. She did extraordinarily badly among white women without a college degree, losing that group to Donald Trump by the staggering margin of 27 points. How could this be? In the fall of 2016, New York magazine interviewed six women who had decided not to cast a vote in the Clinton-Trump election. One, identified as a thirty-year-old teacher, had this to say:
I do not believe that feminism can “trickle down”—that having more women on corporate boards will make life better for working-class women. If your primary concern is creating gender parity within the upper class, it’s rational to support Hillary Clinton. If you are a working woman, things aren’t so clear.
Throughout most of their lives, members of the postwar baby boom generation (those born between 1945 and 1960) held views considerably more liberal than those of the generation before them (born between 1930 and 1945). As late as the year 2000, only 35 percent of baby boomers described themselves as “conservative.”
Then struck the financial crisis, followed by the presidency of Barack Obama. The proportion of baby boomers who called themselves “angry with government” surged from 15 percent before 2008 to 26 percent the next year. By 2011, 42 percent of baby boomers were labeling themselves “conservative,” the same percentage as the next generation up.
It’s important to understand what right-leaning baby boomers mean by the word “conservative.” On social issues such as gay rights and the role of women, boomers, like all Americans, continued to evolve in liberal directions in the Obama years. Nor did aging boomers adopt a more pro-business outlook. On the contrary, boomers in the 2010s expressed much more suspicion of business than the same demographic cohort did in the 1990s, when they were younger and otherwise more liberal. Boomer conservatives exhibited little enthusiasm for the “on your own” ideology of the mainstream GOP. In fact, 64 percent of boomers complained in a 2011 poll that the government didn’t do enough to help older people, a much higher proportion than in any other age group, including their elders.
Boomers adamantly rejected any cuts to entitlement programs—and by larger margins than their elders of the 1930 to 1945 cohort. If necessary to protect those programs, a majority of boomers would breach the ultimate conservative taboo: They would accept tax increases on high earners. Paul Ryan conservatives they were not.
Here’s what those right-leaning boomers did mean by “conservatism.” If read a list of scally liberal statements like, “It is the responsibility of government to take care of people who cannot take care of themselves,” boomers became increasingly likely to deliver a stern no over the 20 years between the 1990s and the 2010s. In fact, by 2010, they had become the age cohort most likely to answer no, more so than either their elders or juniors. They were the cohort most likely to attribute individual economic troubles to those individuals’ own personal failings, rather than to ill fortune, racism, or any other systemic cause.