Politicians have known it for a long time: People above sixty make up nearly 15 percent of the U.S. population, and they vote in large numbers.
This time around, there’s evidence that seniors are growing disillusioned with the political parties. Despite their dissatisfaction, however, experts expect older voters will again be a major presence at voting booths today.
Interviews with a number of senior Chicago voters suggest that as a group, they are focused on issues close to them -- like Medicare and Social Security -- but are also concerned with topics as diverse as education, energy, the U.S. military presence in the Middle East, and women’s health issues.
Sixty-year-old Victoria Martin, interviewed as she waited to vote Tuesday at a union hall on West Washington Boulevard, said she's not sure whether it's still meaningful to vote, but "I would feel guilty if I didn't." Martin, who identified herself as an astrologer, also said she can't stand President Obama "because he's all about spending, spending, spending."
Also in line to vote was Josephine Hernandez, who declined to give her specific age but confirmed she's a senior, said "It's important to have input into elected officials." Hernandez, who said she's particularly concerned about issues that involve pay equality for women, said she's inclined to give President Obama "the benefit of the doubt."
Older voters aren't easily pigeonholed. Lifelong Democrat Margaret Aguilar, 62, said she will will vote for Barack Obama. But in the campaign’s final days, the nurse practitioner decided not to vote for U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Chicago), who represents her 5th Congressional District. She doesn’t agree with some of his positions.
“I heard that Quigley voted to re-authorize the FISA (the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act),” she noted. Under that measure, “You can arrest and hold people without charging them if they are suspected of terrorist activities." It’s a violation of civil rights, she asserted. For her representative, Margaret will this time be voting for Green Party candidate Nancy Wade.
Margaret’s 75-year-old husband Francisco Aguilar said that he is disillusioned with politicians because he thinks the system is increasingly about making the rich richer, and because protection of the public’s safety and health are all “going down the drain.”
“There is no money for Social Security but they want to go to war and want to continue this war mongering all over the world,” he said heatedly. ”We are in a situation that nothing makes a difference,” Francisco said. Nonetheless, he’ll vote today. He’d rather sit the election out, but said if he didn't cast a ballot “my wife will kill me.”
Margaret and Francisco are regulars at the College of Complexes forum, which meets every Saturday in a restaurant at the intersection of Irving Park and Damen. They’ve been coming for three decades, to hear guest speakers and to engage in dialogue about issues like abortion, energy, war and education.
And during elections, the conversation is about politics. “We do political programs around the elections so that people can have a dialogue and get to know the candidates,” said Charles Paidock, a union representative of the National Federation of Federal Employees.
Although older voters may say that they are not going to vote or they may complain about the choices, said Keith Boeckelman, Interim Head, Political Science at Western Illinois University, “statistics show that people tend to vote more as they age.”
Even though older people have seen politicians come and go, they still vote more often than younger, presumably more idealistic people, he said. "After 75, it drops off a little bit but that’s because of physical reasons,” Boekelman said. ”But still it’s higher than people who are in their 20s and 30s. ”