Now, 20 years later, having been inspired to enter politics by former President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, Westrich is a staunchly conservative state representative from southeast Iowa, who is pro-guns and anti-vaccines. That might be an unusual trajectory for someone who played the moog synthesizer in a popular alt-rock band, but, given the politics of people of his generation, it might not be at all unusual.
Gen Xers, which can be roughly defined as those born between 1965 and 1980, came of age under President Ronald Reagan amid the end of the Cold War. The popular image of Gen X has never quite fitted into an easy political framework. This is the generation that produced grunge rock and gangsta rap, but also achieved cultural awareness during the heyday of the 1980s “greed is good” commemorated on Oliver Stone’s Wall Street. In fact, if there was a popular image of politics in this generation, it was that it was apolitical. The slackers depicted in Richard Linklater’s films or grunge rockers in flannels were almost devoid of political inclination, save for widespread cynicism and MTV’s “Choose or Lose” campaign, designed to simply win over young people voters that politics matters. After their first election in 1984, they rebounded in presidential elections – although exit poll data does not always provide a clear generational breakdown – but were never particularly progressive. and veered to the right of the nation in its entirety.
And there were always hints of a culturally more right-wing inclination even if they may have been camouflaged by the less politically charged atmosphere at the time. This cohort’s first major political portrayal was on the sitcom Family ties, where Reagan-loving teenager Alex P. Keaton clashed with his liberal boomer parents. As Republican pollster Patrick Ruffini said Politics“The MTV generation has always been a bit more conservative.”
Now, however, there is no more confusion: Generation X is safely Republican. A 2014 model measuring only white voters in the 2012 election shows that those born in the mid-to-late 1960s are the most Republican of all, more so than older baby boomers and the silent generation. In a poll published at the end of April by Marist/NPR which separated voters by generation, Gen X had the highest level of disapproval for Biden and was the generation most likely to say they would vote for a Republican candidate midterm if it happened that day.
While voters have always tended to be more conservative as they age, this has accelerated with Gen X. In fact, Tom Bonier, the CEO of TargetSmart, a Democratic data company, told me that Gen X has now become the most conservative generation, overtaking the Boomers in their tilt to the right.
Part of this has to do with larger historical forces that were beyond anyone’s control. The political atmosphere in which voters first voted and gained political awareness leaves a lasting impact throughout their lives. As Republican pollster Kristen Soltis Anderson told me, “If you first became aware of politics under Reagan/[George H.W.] In the Bush/Clinton era, you’re more likely to lean a little more to the right. It was a time when even Bill Clinton proclaimed that “the age of big government is over”.
Westrich, born in 1966, integrates with the oldest and, according to some studies, the most conservative slice of this generation. the The first presidential election she could have voted in was Reagan’s landslide in 1984, and she would have come of age at a time when few strong figures defined the Democratic Party. Exit polls that year show reagan 15 percentage point improvement over 1980 among voters under 30, which was the biggest change in any individual demographic that year.
For Westrich, the 1990s were not a particularly political time either. There was no discussion of Newt Gingrich or Hillarycare on the tour bus. Instead it was a corny nomadic experience going from town to town and country to country. Instead of talking politics, Westrich and fellow keyboardist Maya Rudolph (who would later become famous on Saturday Night Live) would humorous videos on their Super 8 camera.