The Unique Political Attitudes and Behaviors of Individuals in Aged Communities
Bramlett, Brittany H.
Gimpel, James G
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This dissertation examines the political attitudes and behaviors of individuals residing in communities with large proportions of older adults. These types of locations are growing in number in the United States as the Baby Boomer Generation arrives at retirement age. Many scholars and journalists rely on theories of `senior power' and predict that the places with large numbers of senior citizens should be especially politically powerful. However, many studies have provided little evidence to support these claims. I explore the old questions with updated data, methods and approaches--theorizing that older adults living among their elderly peers will, in fact, exhibit unique levels of political knowledge, efficacy, and participation as well as hold distinct attitudes for safety net issues. Using large-scale surveys and multilevel modeling techniques, I find that older adults residing in aged communities display higher levels of political knowledge than their elderly peers living in places without the same aged context. However, they are less politically efficacious and somewhat less likely to vote. Older adults living among their peers are also more likely to support social welfare programs, controlling for party identification. I also examine the contextual effect of the aged context for younger residents. In particular, I find that young people are also quite supportive of the safety net policies, which provide assistance for their elder neighbors. Because of this support from the younger generation, older adults in aged communities may rarely, if ever, face threats to their livelihood, driving them into political action. Taken together, the results from this dissertation show that older adults living amongst their peers are certainly equipped for intense political engagement or senior power--but they choose political retreatism rather than activism.