In America, one of the most exciting things about turning 18 is being able to vote for the first time. It’s a right given to all adult American citizens and it seems like just about everyone has an opinion on the political climate. While the voting age and rights haven’t changed, a lot of the issues and politicized events that people care about change through each election cycle. 

I sat down with two Baby Boomers, who were coming of age during the height of the Cold War, two Gen Xers who were coming of age during the economic boom of the 1990s, two millennials who were coming of age during the War on Terrorism and economic recession of the late 2000s, and two Gen Zers, who are a junior in high school and sophomore in college respectively, just learning to navigate the world of politics and deciding where they fall on the political spectrum. 

Each individual, though they all identify as Conservative Republicans, had a wildly different perspective of politics.

QUESTION 1: What was the first election you could vote in? Did you vote? Who did you vote for?

Baby Boomer 1: Let’s see it couldn’t have been Kennedy because I was only a sophomore in high school. I think it was 1968 when I voted for George Wallace

Baby Boomer 2: The first Presidential election I could vote in was the 1980 election. Ronald Reagan defeated Jimmy Carter. I would like to think I voted for President Reagan, but I can’t remember for sure. 

Gen X 1: It was the Clinton and Bush election. And Ross Perot. And I voted, yeah, I voted for Clinton. I missed the ’88 election by a month. My birthday is in early December.  

Gen X 2: The ’92 election but I didn’t vote. I registered and got ready to vote but on election day I decided to play football with my friends instead. I was going to vote for Ross Perot anyway and he wasn’t going to win so I didn’t vote. 

Millennial 1: My birthday is late in the year so the first year I could vote would’ve been midterms 2010 but I was in college and forgot to request an absentee ballot on time, so I missed that election. I missed 2012 because I missed the absentee ballot request window while studying abroad. I finally voted in the Republican midterm primary elections in 2014. 

Millennial 2: The first election I could vote in was 2004. I proudly voted for George W. Bush.

Gen Z 1: 2020 and I don’t know yet if I’ll vote or not. Actually I think I could’ve voted in the 2018 midterm but I didn’t. 

Gen Z 2: The first election I’ll be able to vote in is 2020, and I’m pretty sure I’ll be voting. I don’t see why I wouldn’t vote. 

QUESTION 2: Did politics matter in your family? How often were they discussed? Was there an expectation about how you would vote when you turned 18?

Baby Boomer 1: Daddy was all into politics, mom was not so it wasn’t really discussed that much. Nobody said anything to me about how I was going to vote when I turned 18. 

Baby Boomer 2: Yes, they mattered. My parents always voted. I don’t remember it being discussed a lot growing up. We were raised to vote the way we felt best. 

Gen X 1: Politics were not discussed in my family, no. There was no expectation in how I would vote, in fact, I don’t even think I knew my parents’ political views until I was much older.

Gen X 2: Politics definitely mattered in my family but it was never discussed. There was definitely no expectation, my mom knew I was a Republican. 

Millennial 1: Politics were not a big thing in my family. My mom worked in advocacy for an anti-smoking campaign that lobbied the state legislature so occasionally politics or politicians came up in conversation, but definitely not frequently. I believe my family expected me to vote independent or Republican since that’s how my parents and older brother tended to vote. 

Millennial 2: Politics did matter, but it was never a huge topic of discussion. My family regularly had the news on in the house, but I don’t ever remember either of my parents being strongly for or against any certain candidate or party. 

Gen Z 1: I don’t think there’s any expectations but my parents just want me to vote how I feel but my brother is a lot more interested in politics than my parents are. 

Gen Z 2: Politics are discussed but not a ton. I wouldn’t say there’s an expectation really. I can vote however I want but I know I tend to line up with my family’s views anyway. 

QUESTION 3: When you were in your young adult years was it appropriate to talk about your political views with others? Did people discuss who they voted for or what political issues mattered to them? 

Baby Boomer 1: Not really. Politics really wasn’t a thing that we talked about that much unless it was an election year. We had a lot of other things we cared about so we didn’t talk about it much. My husband did a lot more with his friends but it was because he was in the military, but he never discussed politics with me. 

Baby Boomer 2: I’m not sure it’s ever been considered appropriate. That didn’t stop people though. I always believed who I voted for was my own business and it was rude to ask someone who they voted for. 

Gen X 1: No, not really. People started to get really excited about Bill Clinton when I was in college when he was running but that’s because he visited my campus and he was good at campaigning to young people through MTV and stuff like that.

Gen X 2: Yes, friends talked about it all the time. All my friends were very open with politics and we were all like-minded. 

Millennial 1: I went to college in a super liberal city as a conservative, so I rarely spoke about politics with my friends and classmates. Many of my political science professors knew I was a conservative and enjoyed discussing politics. Occasionally, my friends and I would talk about politics but typically only about the trendy issues that would pop up in culture.

Millennial 2: I don’t think it was inappropriate, but I don’t recall people getting in political debates like people seem to now. Of course, my first presidential election was before Facebook was available to the masses, so maybe it was just a matter of not knowing each other’s political views. 

Gen Z 1: My friends and I don’t really talk about politics but it’s okay to talk about them.

Gen Z 2: A lot of my friends talk about politics. We don’t always agree on it but we can respect each other’s opinions on it. 

QUESTION 4: What’s the first major political or politicized event that you can recall? (E.x. the Berlin Wall coming down, or 9/11)

Baby Boomer 1: Richard Nixon and Watergate. Or JFK being shot and killed. We didn’t know at that time that he was dead. It just came on the intercom when I was in typing class, “the President has been shot” but they didn’t tell us if he died or not. I was out of school for the day by the time I found out he had passed away. 

Baby Boomer 2: The Vietnam War and The Civil Rights Movement

Gen X 1: I remember the Hostage Crisis in Iran but I was really little. I also remember the Berlin Wall coming down when I was a junior in college and the Iran-Contra hearing when I was in high school.

Gen X 2: When Ronald Reagan fired the Air Traffic Controllers—I guess I also remember the Carter/Reagan Election but I was only 6 years old when Reagan became President. 

Millennial 1: The first major political event I remember was 9/11, I was 10 years old. It was a very scary day even growing up in a rural small town thousands of miles away from the attacks. 

Millennial 2: Definitely 9/11. I believe that event and President Bush’s response to it is what made my decision to vote for him [in 2004]. That event took place when I was a freshman in High school and I remember becoming immensely more patriotic after that. It was definitely a formative event in my life and in political history as a whole. I just couldn’t fathom (and still can’t) someone so intensely hating the greatest country in the world. Especially to the point that they are wiling to murder thousands of innocent people. 

Gen Z 1: The Romney/Obama Election when I was in middle school.

Gen Z 2: Osama Bin Laden being killed when I was in elementary school. Everyone was so happy that day, even my teacher. 

QUESTION 5: What were the biggest political “hot topics” of the era?

Baby Boomer 1: The Vietnam War. And all the things surrounding it, like communism and the Soviet Union

Baby Boomer 2: Definitely the war. Our country didn’t treat our military fairly when they returned home because so many people were against the war. 

Gen X 1: Taxes for sure, and healthcare cost. Healthcare will always be an issue.

Gen X 2:  Abortion definitely. The economy for sure would’ve been the biggest in my opinion. That was definitely the focal point of why I was so interested in Ross Perot. A couple of other big issues that were going on at the time was producing or reducing nuclear weapons because this was right around the time that the Cold War was over. 

Millennial 1: Some of the big ones early in my life were Sarah Palin and her choosing life for her Down Syndrome son. The war in Iraq/our military, and gay rights/gay marriage were big hot topics for the majority of my young adult college years. Now I think taxes, the border, and ending abortion are the hot topics. 

Millennial 2: I definitely remember Operation Enduring Freedom being a huge hot topic. At the time, I didn’t agree with it. In retrospect, as my life experiences and politics have changed, I agree that it had to be done. We will not tolerate blatant disregard for human life that was demonstrated on 9/11. 

Gen Z 1: President Trump himself has become a hot topic, abortion, and gun control with the influx of shootings in the news. 

Gen Z 2: Gun control and abortion are probably the biggest. Gun control is a huge one right now. Everyone has an opinion on it, even children. 

QUESTION 6: Do you think politics are more or less divisive now than they were when you first started voting or do you think it’s stayed relatively the same? 

Baby Boomer 1: More. Maybe it’s because the media makes such a big deal. When I was younger, yeah it was on the news but not all the time. Now it’s like it’s spoonfed to you constantly from the news. It’s like you’re always constantly hearing about Trump from the second you wake up in the morning. And we’ve all got cell phones now so it even if it isn’t more divisive it at least seems like it is because it’s right in front of you all day. 

Baby Boomer 2: I think it is much more divisive now than it was then. That may be because people are much more vocal or because we now have other ways to communicate our beliefs (ex. social media). People tend to get really angry and even belligerent when it comes to politics these days.  

Gen X 1: More. Maybe it was just my circle of friends but people never really talked about politics and when they did they were more positive about politics. Now it’s just so hateful and people are very disrespectful. Disrespectful to our president too. When I was growing up, even if you didn’t like a president you were still respectful of them, you would never say the things people say now. 

Gen X 2: More. I think the separation has grown more. Not only are conservatives more conservatives but the liberals are more extreme left. It seems like hardly anyone is a moderate anymore.

Millennial 1: I think politics is more divisive now than it was before or perhaps I was too young to notice, but I think with the Obama/McCain election politics and social media and the spread of information has allowed politics to be so much more divisive since everyone’s political opinions are accessible 24/7. 

Millennial 2: In my opinion, the divisiveness in politics has stayed relatively the same. However, the issues that divide us are entirely different. It seems to me that the left has decided that they would get the masses worried about social issues that really don’t seem to matter hugely on a large federal scale. That was what they needed to do in order to garner votes, particularly from groups that don’t have solid records of voting at all. Instead of working on issues that matter like economic policy and foreign policy, we are now worried about things like who uses what bathroom.

Gen Z 1: No I feel like political parties have become more fluid, there are a lot more people that are moderates and like things about both parties. 

Gen Z 2: Definitely more divisive, just because of social media and it’s easier to hear everyone’s opinion—so it at least seems more divisive, even if it really isn’t. 

QUESTION 7: Do you think voting is something that people (of your generation) would consider to be a civic duty or is it something only the most passionate people do? 

Baby Boomer 1: Voting is very important to us. I had my 50-year reunion just a few years ago and everyone was talking about politics and who they voted for and how important it is to vote, not just for president, but for all offices. 

Baby Boomer 2: My generation sees it as our duty. If you don’t vote don’t complain.

Gen X 1: I think you had to be more on the passionate side but I don’t know, I wasn’t passionate and I voted so I could be wrong.

Gen X 2: I’d say passionate people only. I think now that we’re the age that we are, we all care about politics more, so we all vote. 

Millennial 1: I think most people in my generation vote when they are passionate about an issue or candidate or feel obligated because of peer-pressure or parent-pressure to vote. I don’t think enough people in my generation understand the civic duty behind voting and they don’t know enough about the issues to really know why they believe or care about what they believe because the political flavor of the day changes so quickly. It’s all one-liners and memes that drive the attention of my generation’s political opinions.

Millennial 2: I don’t believe people consider it a civic duty. Particularly in local elections. Most people my age couldn’t even tell you who is running for local municipal elections. I think the same holds true for national elections, but for a different reason. I know several people who didn’t vote at all in the last Presidential election, only because they didn’t feel as if they had a candidate worthy of any vote.

Gen Z 1: I feel like only the most passionate people vote. Like I said, I’m pretty sure I could’ve voted in the midterm but I didn’t even bother to see if I was old enough or not. I don’t think any of my friends did either. 

Gen Z 2: There are definitely some people who don’t really care about it, or feel that they shouldn’t vote because they aren’t educated enough on it, but overall most people think that voting is very important. 

Politics can be divisive, and how you vote can be deeply personal, but the political climate is certainly not stagnant. Just between four generations of people I observed a number of changes and differing opinions about politics and the political climate. When interacting with those of a different generation than you, whether they be family, friends or strangers, remember that the way they grew up and the political climate they voted in was very different than the one you’re in today. 

Georgia G

Georgia Gallagher graduated from the University of Alabama in the summer of 2019 where she majored in Journalism and Political Science. She is currently working as a Cast Member at  Walt Disney World in Florida. In her free time she can be found advocating for pro-life policies and working with single or low-income mothers. She often says that her planner is second only to her Bible and she’s never caught without a cup of coffee in her hand.