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Millennials vs boomers: Playing the age game not straightforward for Democrats or GOP

Millennials vs boomers: Playing the age game not straightforward for Democrats or GOP

What's in a name? If you are the leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, quite a lot it turns out. At the start of this week Associated Press announced it had, like Hillary Clinton herself, dropped the Rodham. From now on, the candidate would be referred to as just Hillary Clinton. So what was with the Rodham in the first place? As The Atlantic explains:

Hillary Rodham was a product of the women’s liberation movement. When she agreed to marry Bill Clinton—the third time he asked—she decided to keep her own name. Bill didn’t seem to have a problem with that. His mother did. Virginia Clinton Kelley recalled in her autobiography that when Bill told her, the day of the wedding, she began to weep. “I had never even conceived of such a thing. This had to be some new import from Chicago,” she recalled.

Like many other women of that era (she married Bill in 1975), Hillary Rodham thought the idea of changing your name simply because you marry someone with a different one was ludicrous. But this view never became set in society's cement. A 30-year retrospective study of wedding announcements from The New York Times found that while the percentage of brides who 'explicitly' kept their name went from 1% in the 1970s to 9% in the 1980s and 23% in the 1990s, only 18% did in the following decade. In 2013, a national survey, a joint effort by Indiana University and University of Utah found 71% of respondents agreed it is better for women to change their name upon marriage.

And, as it turned out, Hillary was pretty flexible on the issue as well. In 1982 she took the double surname route, becoming Hillary Rodham Clinton, to help her husband reclaim the seat of governor in Arkansas. Now, it seems, 40 years since she married, she has given away her maiden name for good. In 'Hillary's Story' on her campaign website there is not one mention of Rodham. Her campaign has confirmed there will be no Rodham on the ballot. So what does this do to her feminist credentials? [fold]

Apparently not much, at least among the demographic groups her camp is most concerned with. It turns out those most likely to care about maiden names and such (older women, who remember the 1970s marches) are less enamoured of Hillary Clinton than younger women. As Newsweek's Nina Burleigh notes:

The irony is that the women who most resemble Clinton—white, older, married and moneyed—are less excited about her than millennials (adults 18 to 34 this year), women of color and unmarried women of all ages. Those differences will be critical in the general election.

More millennials will be eligible to vote next year than baby boomers so it's an important group for Democrats whose vote has traditionally skewed younger. And very few younger women are focused on whether Hillary uses her maiden name or not because, when and if they marry, the chances are they will choose to ditch their own.

For those seeking the Republican vote, it is the other end of the age spectrum that is concentrating attention. It's certainly where Donald Trump's support base lies. According to this Real Clear Politics analysis, Trump’s supporters are a bit older, less educated and earn less than the average Republican. Slightly over half are women. Only 2% are less than 30, some 35% are over 65 and about half are aged between 45 and 64. This could be a problem for Trump's younger competitors, led by Marco Rubio, who is playing up his comparative youth (he'll be 45 to Trump's 70 on election day) every chance he gets. If Rubio, thought to be the favourite of the 'establishment GOP' as Jeb Bush fades, is to win out, he will need to win over some of those currently favouring Trump. Will they buy his whippersnapper rhetoric?

So at this point in the presidential race both Clinton, who does rely heavily on the female vote but is also favoured by black and Hispanic voting blocks, and Rubio, who would like to be the first Hispanic president, find themselves looking outside of their own kind. As the Brookings Institute's William Fey told The New York Times, 'It’s kind of odd that they themselves are part of a demographic that’s not their natural political base'.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user wfowlkes

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