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Cognition and Political Ideology in Aging.

Published Web Location Commons 'BY' version 4.0 license


The impact of cognitive function and decline on political ideology is unknown. We studied the relationship between cognition and both political orientation and political policy choices in a population of older persons.


Longitudinal investigation.


A retirement community and its surroundings in Southern California.


151 members of a longitudinal investigation of aging and dementia in the oldest-old (the 90+ Study), mean age 95 years.


Participants self-reported their political ideology (7-point scale from extremely liberal to extremely conservative) and policy preferences for federal spending on public schooling, aid to the poor, and protecting the environment, as well as on preferences on immigration rates, death penalty, and university admission. The same political survey was mailed to participants twice: at time one and 6-months later. Cognitive function based on neurological examination and cognitive testing was classified as normal (55%), cognitive impairment/not dementia (CIND) (33%), or dementia (12%). We calculated rank correlations between ideology and policy choices, stratified by cognitive status, and agreement between Surveys 1 and 2.


Political ideology/orientation was highly consistent over a six-month period (84% agreement) among the 122 who returned the second survey, with no significant relationship to cognitive status. Among cognitively impaired (CIND and dementia), however, there was significant loss of consistency between an individual's political orientation and their policy choices. Level of political engagement was high for participants, with more than 90% voting in the 2016 presidential election.


In this population of older persons, political identification on the liberal-conservative spectrum was resilient despite cognitive decline, but its meaning and function were changed. For the cognitively impaired it remained a self-defining label, but no longer operated as a higher order framework for orienting specific policy preferences. There appeared to be loss of coherence between the political orientation and political policy choices of cognitively impaired individuals. Given the high level of political engagement of these individuals, these results have substantial public policy implications.

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