Amidst changing voter preferences and unexpected volatility in candidate fortunes, the 1984 contest for the Democratic presidential nomination contained at least one constant. From Iowa and New Hampshire through “Super Tuesday” and the middle round in big industrial states to the early June finale, voter preferences among the major contenders for the Democratic nomination diverged sharply by age.
Gary Hart enjoyed his greatest support among young voters, while Walter Mondale's strength was drawn from older voters, especially those over 65. The appeal of Jesse Jackson varied by age as well. Young blacks flocked to the Jackson banner. Older blacks, perhaps no less excited by the presence of an attractive black candidate for president, were more reluctant to follow, giving a greater share of their vote than did young blacks to Walter Mondale. Not since the protest candidacies of McCarthy and Kennedy in 1968 or the more successful insurgency of McGovern in 1972 has so much attention been paid to the contrasting responses of Americans of different ages to candidates for the presidency.
Popular accounts of the relationship of age to presidential choice in 1984 have treated these differences as indicative of generational conflict. The epicenter of the Hart constituency is located in the “Vietnam” or “baby boom” generation, while Mondale's generational home base has been placed among voters who came of age politically during the New Deal. The implication is that Mondale represented vestiges of the old Democratic New Deal coalition, whereas Hart was the candidate of Americans for whom the New Deal is only an historical footnote. Simply put, the 1984 Democratic battle commonly has been described as pitting the old coalition against the new ideas.