How did the historic 2008 Democratic landslide turn into the historic Republican landslide of 2010?
Younger and minority voters stayed home while seniors became a much larger part of the electorate. As the first baby boomers turned 65 in 2010, seniors voted Republican by a 21-point margin. A clear majority of 58 percent supported the GOP in the midterms, a ten point increase from the presidential election just two years earlier.
Are the nation’s most reliable voters about to switch again?
A new national survey by Democracy Corps find that seniors support Republican candidates by a mere five percent. Only 28 percent approve of House Republicans, down 15 percent when Republicans took over the lower house of Congress in 2011 — with 71 percent disapproving of their performance. Meanwhile, 40 percent approve of House Democrats up three percent in that same time period.
What’s behind this sudden reversal?
Here are five reasons the GOP is losing senior citizens and may have a hard time winning them back.
Photo: ProgressOhio via Flickr.com
Democracy Corps’ Eric Seifert believes the single biggest issue behind the shift in seniors’ perceptions has to do with perceptions of how both parties would handle the economy.
In 2010, Republicans had a 15 percent advantage over Democrats when asked who would do better handling the economy. The two parties are now virtually tied on this issue with 43 percent choosing Republicans and 42 percent choosing Democrats.
This could be the result of the improving economy, or perhaps Republicans have lost the advantage they had — when Speaker Boehner continually asked, “Where are the jobs?” — by focusing on issues that please the base but have little connection in most voters’ minds with actually increasing hiring.
Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr.com
Medicare, Or They Realize All The ‘Taker’ and ’47 Percent’ Talk Was About Them
In the run up to the 2010 election, Republicans pulled off a miracle.
Suddenly the party that had been consistently proposing cuts to Medicare, the same party once led by the man who said a health care system that covers all American seniors over 65 would lead to socialism, and later led by a man who said that Medicare would “wither on the vine“, had managed to convince seniors that they, the Republican Party, were saving the program from President Obama and the Democrats.
Savvy Republican strategists seized on the reforms in the Affordable Care Act that would save hundreds of millions of dollars — while adding free preventative care and closing the Medicare D “donut” hole — to blast the president for cutting America’s most beloved government program.
And what did Republicans do nearly as soon as they took over the House? Led by their budget committee chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI), they voted to privatize both Medicare and Social Security. Ryan’s Path to Prosperity plan for Medicare was estimated to nearly double out-of-pocket costs for seniors, many of whom already struggle to survive. The congressman knew his plan wouldn’t be popular with seniors so he included a provision that it would only affect those 55 and younger. Paul’s second pass at Medicare added a “public option” of traditional Medicare and a slightly more generous “voucher” to help seniors afford care. But the effect was the same, passing the costs on to seniors.
The best part of the second Ryan budget was that it included the Medicare cuts from the Affordable Care Act that Republicans ran against in 2010, without any of the benefits — free preventative care and closing the donut hole — that Obamacare offers seniors.
Ryan’s plan is moderate compared to Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) who introduced a Medicare plan that would immediately end Medicare as we know it and switch seniors into private plans.
Republicans have reminded seniors that they were never fans of Medicare. And with 89 percent of seniors telling Democracy Corps that they want to protect Medicare benefits and premiums, this issue is key to how older Americans will vote in 2014 and beyond.
While even the Republican Party has become less and less supportive of the Tea Party, the GOP base that has been motivated by that movement continues to dominate both sides of the debate because of the disproportionate role it plays in influencing primary elections.
Furious AM radio rhetoric, repeal after repeal of Obamacare, and blindly partisan investigations led by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) may be good for fundraising and building mailing lists, but they are reinforcing the perception that the GOP caters to the extremes. Even among seniors, who make up the bulk of Fox News’ audience, the far right’s act may be getting tiresome.
“On almost every issue we tested — including gay rights, aid to the poor, immigration, and gun control — more than half of seniors believe that the Republican Party is too extreme,” writes Seifert.
A slight majority of seniors, 52 percent, also believe the GOP is “out of touch” and is “dividing America”.
Medicare and Social Security are far from the only issues where seniors are siding with Democrats, according to Seifert:
– 87 percent of seniors want to raise pay for working women.
– 79 percent of seniors think we need to expand scholarships for working adults.
– 77 percent of seniors want to expand access to high-quality and affordable childcare for working parents.
– 74 percent of seniors want to cut subsidies to big oil companies, agribusinesses, and multinational corporations in order to invest in education, infrastructure, and technology.
“Just 10 percent of seniors believe that the Republican Party does not put special interests ahead of ordinary voters,” she writes.
Photo: Joe Schueller via Flickr.com
The Republican Tent Is Shrinking
Republicans have take a 10 point advantage in party identification with seniors in 2010 and turned it into a six point disadvantage in 2013.
The number of Americans refusing to identify as Republicans isn’t a phenomenon unique to older Americans, as you can see from the chart above where the diving red line shows the percent of Americans who call themselves Republican.
The question is what can Republicans do to win seniors back?
Minority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) recently called for cuts to Medicare and Social Security in order to replace the sequester. This shows that the GOP isn’t willing to give up their strategy of embracing tactics seniors won’t approve of. However, they may be hoping that if the president and congressional Democrats agree to these cuts as well, seniors will turn on both parties a little more equally.