Don’t Use Drugs: It May Cause You To Vote Republican

I know there are a cornucopia of health reasons (physical and mental) to avoid using drugs, now it appears there may be political reasons as well. For all the nut-job rhetoric you may have heard about values and the 1960s, as conservative columnist David Frum points out in his book on the 70s, as late as 1967, only 7% of Americans had ever used an illegal drug. Furthermore, as liberal sociologist Mike Males points out in his book The Scapegoat Generation, as late as 1972 the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse survey’s indicated that 86% of 12-17 year olds had never tried pot, 94% had never used an illegal drug or inhalant, 95% had never used acid, and 99% had never tried cocaine or heroin, 82% said they had never used an illegal drug at all.

Of course, as these high schoolers moved through post-high school education during the 1970s, they became more likely to experiment with drugs. More scary, drug use by minors (which had previously been low, though not unheard of) soared in the 1970s. By the years 1976-1979, according to the University of Michigan, over 50%!!! of high school seniors smoked pot regularly, while 10% did daily. From 1979-1992, drug use in America and among teens declined (though not to rates as low as the mid-late 1960s). Rates among teens rose again from 1992-97. Since then it has leveled off, if not declined slightly. So what does this have to do with politics? According to Jonathan Pontell of Mason-Dixon polling, a lot.

Meet “Generation Jones.” Often unfairly lumped in with their older siblings, the baby boomers these folks were born in the years 1954 through 1964 ( at least 4 million babies were born in each of those years). These folks make up 26% of adults in the US today. They made up 28% of voters in 2004 and might make up 31% of voters in 2008.

Much was made in the 1980s about Reagan and Bush’s totals among voters under 30 (lost them 44%-43% in 1980, won them 59%-40% in 1984, won them 52%-47% in 1988). Of course anybody can do stupid things when they are young.

But what about 30-44 year olds and 45-59 year olds in 2000 and 2004, when Jonesers were/are in these age groups? 2000: 30-44 and 45-59, Bush 49%-48%. 2004: 30-44, Bush 52%-46%, 45-59 Bush 51%-48%. What gives? I’m hoping it is still the after effects of drug use in the 1970s, but unfortunately Pontell’s theories are more credible. He writes:

“As children in the 1960s, Jonesers were given huge expectations, during, arguably, the peak of post-World War II American confidence and affluence, and then confronted, as they came of age during the mid-to-late 1970s and early 1980s with a very different reality, leaving them with a certain pending, unrequited, “jonesin”‘ quality.” Those huge expectations left unfulfilled are now strongly affecting this generation as it enters middle age, a life-cycle period when all generations feel that “now or never” feeling rumbling in the pit of the stomach – that realization that if you don’t pursue your dreams quickly, you probably never will.”

More importantly, “Having reached adulthood primarily during the Reagan era, Jonesers appear to offer a more conservative and less secular approach to politics than their older brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles and cousins. They also may be less divisive and less harsh in their rhetoric, having not had to deal with the major conflicts of the Civil Rights and Vietnam eras…. it is the female bloc of Jones voters that is largely identified as “security moms.” They are also a major part of the “evangelical vote,” and Jones voters are a significant percentage of the “cross-over” ethnic voters that supported Bush.”

Most important, without his margins among Jonesers, Bush would not have won. He won the Jones vote in all 15 battleground states. Nationally, generation Jones women were the only generation of females to give a majority of their votes to Bush. Most damaging are these statistics about Generation Jones (men and women):
“In Florida, senior, baby-boomer and younger voters combined supported Kerry 50 percent to 49 percent, but Bush’s 56-43 margin with Jonesers provided his five-point victory statewide.

In Ohio, senior, baby-boomer and younger voters combined supported Kerry 51-48 but Bush carried the state with his 59-40 advantage among Jones voters.

In Iowa, senior, baby-boomer and younger voters combined supported Kerry 51-48, but Jonesers went 56-43 for Bush.

In Nevada, senior, baby-boomer and younger voters combined supported Kerry 50-49, but the Jones vote went 56-43 for Bush.

Finally, in New Mexico, senior, baby-boomer and younger voters combined went for Kerry 51-48, but Jonesers backed Bush 54-45.

In total, these five states accounted for 64 electoral votes. Had they gone for Kerry, he would have won the presidency with 316 electoral votes to Bush’s 222.

(The Jones vote for Bush was also heavy in Colorado, with 57 percent for Bush compared to 42 percent for Kerry. But it was not technically decisive, because the combined vote of other age groups was 50-49 in favor of Bush.)”

Of course all this is somewhat harsh on these folks. After all, Bush’s 2004 margins were only slightly greater among 30-44 year olds and 45-59 year olds than they were in 2000, when he lost the popular vote. Kerry actually won voters over 74 and voters under 30, by margins much greater than Gore’s.

The switchers, according to the Washington Post Outlook article “A Dominant GOP?” (12/26/04) were voters born from 1929 to 1944 (60 to 74 year olds). This group voted for Gore 51%-47% in 2000, but gave 54% of their votes to Bush this time (apparently over gay marriage, which is odd because Kerry opposed gay marriage). Still, its Jonesers that are assuming power in government, business, and the media.

So how did these folks end up so GOP? More importantly, what (if anything) can Dems do to win over these voters?

The full editorial “Meet ‘Gen Jones’ is available at the Denver Post at

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About Nick

Teacher of Social Studies. Born in the 1970s. History major, music minor. Big Baseball fan. Economic progressive.
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5 Responses to Don’t Use Drugs: It May Cause You To Vote Republican

  1. Todd says:

    I think what Pontell is trying to do is draw a distinction amongst the older Boomers and the younger ones. He’s right that 4 million kids were born each year after 1954, but beginning after 1960 (mainly with the introduction of the pill) the birth rate began to decline precipitously. This is why the old year of 1964 has been redrawn to 1960 as the end of the Boomer generation (see Howe & Strauss “Generations” for more).

    Those born in the 1960’s, particularly those born while LBJ was in the WH, have very disctinctive subcultural patterns that distinguish them from both the traditional Boomer and Gen X stereotpyes (thought they are ostensibly grouped with the latter). I can’t remember where I read it, but as a group these “tweeners” are shifting their affiliations from long-time Democrats to more Republican. Which is unfortunate, seeing as how it’s my cohort.

    But you’re question is still a good one…how did they end up Repub and what can Dems do to win them back? Do people just naturally drift more conservative as they age, have kids, establish careers, etc?

  2. Nick says:

    Clinton won the under 30 vote, although he never got as high as 55%, as Kerry did in 2004. Among under 30 year olds, Gore beat Bush 48%-46% in 2000. This is significant in that it shows that Generation X (born in 1965 thru 1974 (or 1975)) trended leftward. Interesting how the children of people born (mostly) during or right after WWII ended up being MORE liberal in their youth than their parents actually were in the 1960s. (Nixon and Wallace won a majority of the under 30 vote in 1968, while Nixon won an even larger majority of the youth vote in 1972).
    Of course Bush won the 30-44 vote 52%-46% in 2004, I wonder if Bush’s margin was due to strong support from those born from 1960 thru 1964, or if Generation Xers have gotten more conservative as they crossed into their 30s? I sure hope not, after all the ranting and raving I did against yuppies in the late 1980s-early 1990s. Hell, one of my favorite songs from that era was Tom Petty’s “Yer So Bad” (1989).

  3. Ginny in Co says:

    I’m confused. I thought the “generation” time frame was 20 years. I did see a difference between those of us born before ’60 and those after. Maybe what we are seeing is the result of the rapid rate of change in our society. The kinds of “shared”
    growing up experiences are different in a much shorter time space.

    I thought one of the hallmarks of the Xers was how much of the Reagan era materialism (vs idealism) they absorbed. My nephews definitely fit this stereotype.
    My son is much closer to it than his sister who is Millenial and much more liberal.

    We also had a shift from strong GOP to Dem in the WWII and Boomer generations
    of our family after Nixon resigned. Since then, the Religous Right has kept us
    secular humanists from going anywhere near the GOP.

    I also sensed a big difference in 2004 related to age and war issues. The Xers kids aren’t old enough to worry about the draft and they are too old. The millenials definitely felt the cold cloud of the draft, as did anyone old enough to have children/grandchildren who could be drafted before the war is over.

    There are some in the extended families who have wised up and don’t trust W, while others seem to have lost their religous bearings and follow blindly.

    Rereading the column and Pontell’s analysis of what that age group experienced in
    the ’60s and then coming of age seems likely to me where the shift occurred.
    One of the big influences is the tv shows they grew up on. The differences in early childhood programs and adolescent are likely to be the most influential.

    And had more parents come to the conclusion that skipping church wasn’t such a good idea, so those kids went more than some of their older siblings/cousins?

    Ultimately, I am not sure the age differences will matter as much as understanding the
    different insecurities and fears that are out there and being able to articulate a
    positive, can do message.

  4. Todd says:

    Ginny, you’re right, in demography the generations usually move in 15-20 year cycles. The bulk of Generation X, for purposes of last year’s election, would be those folks ranging in age from roughly 26-43, give or take a few years either way. As you say, most are too old to serve in the miltary, and their kids are still too young to worry about a draft, which no doubt produced a very schizophrenic response to Iraq, Bush & Kerry. And while it’s a much smaller demographic than either the Boomers or the Millennials, it’s still a crucial demographic to try and figure out politically.

  5. Nick says:


    I think your right in what you say especially about developing a postive message. The point of the column is to take a fresh look at the election from another perspective, in this case age groups. I confess some of it was self-indulgent. I’ve always been interested in how different a lot of Jonesers are from the boomers of the Xers (whom I thought were born from 1965 thru 1974) even though by tranditional measures of generations Jonesers are close to boomers in age.
    Still, I realize the age comparison is only so effective. After all, every generation has its share of scholars, activists, great parents, athletes, artists, etc. In addition every generation also produces its share of drunks, selfish affluents, deadbeats, fanatics, and right-wing Republicans. In that sense the folks born from 1954 thru 1964 are no different from what came before or after them.