Polling in recent years suggests that people under age 50 do not think they will be able to depend on Medicare’s health-care benefits or income from Social Security once they retire. An August 2010 CNN poll found that 70 percent of respondents under 50 do not believe they will see benefits from Social Security, while 61 percent of respondents age 40 through 49 in a June 2011 Pew Research survey said Medicare needed either major changes or a complete overhaul.
The question is whether the shared cultural bond that came from listening to grunge and watching “Friends” can translate into a political connection. So far, Ryan, a policy wonk with three children, has not emerged as a cultural icon for his generation — certainly not in the way that Barack Obama or Bill Clinton did when they took the national spotlight.
There is no consensus definition of Generation X, but it comprises the post-baby boom generation, born roughly between the mid-1960s and early-1980s. As such, Ryan is the first clear-cut, indisputable member of this demographic to run on a presidential ticket. Barack Obama and Sarah Palin could qualify, but they fall into a gray area — born in 1961 and 1964, respectively — that could just as easily place them in the boomer category.
Neil Howe, a demographer and co-author of the book “Generations,” says Gen X voters might be willing to embrace tough cuts for the sake of sustainability, especially because of their characteristic self-reliance. “They’re relatively more likely to say these benefit programs won’t survive, and we ought to take a chance doing something with reform,” he said. “Taking it on the chin a little in order to create a more secure future for their children, I think, is something that would resonate with them.”
Howe said Gen Xers grew up somewhat neglected, with relatively self-centered parents who didn’t think the world revolved around children — the opposite of today’s helicopter parents. “These were hurried kids given self-help guides and taught to rely on themselves,” he said.
Todd McDonald, a 44-year-old venture capitalist and independent voter from Ashburn, said he is warm to Ryan, but he opposes Medicare vouchers and Ryan’s resistance to defense cuts that could complement possible reductions in discretionary spending. “I like Ryan as a person — he seems like a good family man,” McDonald said. “But I don’t agree with his views.”