age over youth? How the “grandfather effect” shapes world politics


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As millennial and post-millennial voters become the largest voting constituency globally, experts at Flinders University warn that the “grandfather effect” has resulted in people from previous generations holding or voting for office at an older age.

This follows a new study of 1,000 young voters that has debunked the myth that younger voters prefer young political leaders – which is evident given that only a handful of world leaders are under the age of 39.

The political science study found that age (up to 70 years and older) and experience won out in youth voting, provided the older candidates have left-leaning politics that support younger voters’ positions on social and identity issues.

“Although older candidates with left-leaning politics were favored, this was often, but not always, the case for younger candidates,” says Rodrigo Praino, Flinders University associate professor, electoral behavior analyst at the College of Business, Government and Law.

“We wanted to examine why younger voters are attracted to older male candidates in more than one advanced western democracy — raising the question of whether there is anything ‘different’ in the voting habits of millennials and post-millennials.”

While large numbers of young voters support young leaders running for office – like Jacinda Adern in New Zealand in 2020 – they can also support relatively older candidates like Bernie Sanders in the US and Jeremy Corbyn in the UK – and even candidates – strongly support 80+ like the Green member of the Bundestag Hans-Christian Ströbele.

“Our study shows that millennials and post-millennials do not appear to exhibit any intergenerational bias towards older candidates,” says Associate Professor Praino.

“In other words, today’s young voters seem willing to support older candidates, provided their political stance is in line with what young voters care about.”

Millennials, or Gen Y voters, who were born between about 1981 and 1996, are now in their 20s and 30s — and post-millennials (Gen Z), who were born between 1997 and 2012, are getting into the right to vote. They follow Gen X (1965-1980) and Boomer generations, many of whom are retired or retiring.

The Flinders University study shows that, in contrast to descriptive representational literature, young voters are “significantly more likely to support older candidates if they are aware that those candidates represent general left-wing politics,” says co-author Professor Charlie Lees, now a resident of the University of London.

“All other things being equal, younger voters do not favor younger candidates over older candidates,” he says.

The aim of the study was to understand voter turnout and engagement of younger voters in the political process in order to explore possible increased representation of younger citizens in positions of power and national decision-making bodies.

“Although young voters are often described as disinterested and disinterested in conventional political participation, they are known for being able to mobilize in remarkable, unconventional ways,” the researchers conclude.

The article appears in International Journal of Political Science.

More information:
Charles Lees et al, Young Voters, Older Candidates, and Political Preferences: Evidence from Two Experiments, International Journal of Political Science (2022). DOI: 10.1177/01925121221139544

Provided by Flinders University

Citation: age over youth? How the “Grandfather Effect” Shapes World Politics (2023 January 25) Retrieved January 25, 2023 from

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