“Active Grannies”: Same Old People, Cute New Name

A few weeks back, we tried to pre-empt the inevitable quest for this year’s group of easily labeled swing voters by tossing out a few candidates for the Soccer Moms of 2008 award. Among them were “Ageist Grannies”—seniors who judge candidates of their own generation more harshly than they judge others. Turns out we weren’t too far off.

The other day, Clinton pollster Mark Penn coined a new buzz group: “active grannies.” He defines them as “empty-nesters who have found a new freedom in their lives after the kids have left and who look at the world very differently than do their kids graduating college.” Some of these folks are attracted to Obama because of his proposed tax breaks for seniors and his Social Security and health care plans. Some like McCain because “they believe that the country has had a fundamental break in values from the past.”

Here’s an even easier way to think about this cute new group: old people. Penn attributes their strength mostly to demographics. Large numbers of seniors live in Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. And over the past two decades, they make up an increasingly large portion of the electorate. So it’s not really the formation of a new group. (What qualifies these people as “active” is unclear.) It’s the growth of an old one.

Also, as Penn points out, this group has apparently chosen every president (or at least every winner of the popular vote) for the past 40 years. In other words, they’ve been swing voters for decades. Why the big fuss this year?