If (And Possibly Why) Voters Watch the First Democratic Primary Debate Depends On Their Age

October 7, 2015 | By Kelsey Rupp

This election, Democratic millennials will approach debate season more like the generation older than their parents, according to a poll conducted by Google Consumer Surveys for IJ.com.

In a breakdown by age, the two groups most likely to say they will watch the CNN/Facebook Democratic primary debate next week are the youngest (18-to-24-year-olds) and the oldest (65+-year-olds) voters.

Of self-identified Democrats between 18-24, 51.3% said they would watch the debate, while 54.5% of 65+ year-olds said they would.

Middle-aged self-identified Democrats (45-to-54-year-olds), by contrast, are the group least likely to say they will watch the debate (37.4%) and the most likely to say they will not (50.1%).

Only 38.7% of those aged 18-24 and 32.9% of respondents aged 65+ said they will not watch the debate, according to the survey:

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Members of the Silent Generation (born 1925-42) are today in their 70s and 80s, comfortably within the survey’s oldest cohort. This is a generation that demographer Neil Howe described as having an awareness that “playing by the rules always worked well for them.” In that vein, watching televised debates is simply what one should do — the rule to follow — during an election.

Millennials, meanwhile, are both a risk-adverse yet collectively-optimistic generation, according to Howe. That theoretically fits with high debate viewership rates: The 18-24 Democrats want to minimize risk by making an informed decision while remaining optimistic enough to listen to multiple Democratic candidates, rather than settle early in a campaign.

The 45-to-54-year-old survey group comprises the youngest members of the Boomer generation and the oldest Generation Xers. Howe described young Boomers, born in the mid-to-late 1950s, as “underperforming” their older peers. Xers, meanwhile, learned “they couldn’t trust older people and institutions to look out for their best interests.” With such a gloomy outlook, maybe the little interest in the debate for members of this age range shouldn’t be a surprise.

It is important not to take this generational differences too far; demographics isn’t necessarily destiny. But it is something for the candidates to keep in mind as they make their pitches to debate watchers next week.

The survey results to this question is based on 2,240 responses. Subsequent questions in the nationwide survey, conducted from Oct 1-3, were with 1,004 self-identified Democrats who said they planned on watching the debate.