Let's Bring Seniors Back Home
by Jonathan Singer, Sat Feb 18, 2006 at 07:57:49 AM EST
In 2004, the age group among which George W. Bush performed best were older voters -- those aged 60 and above. Among this segment, which made up just under a quarter of the electorate on election day, the President bested John Kerry by a 54 percent to 46 percent margin.
As I noted last month, much of this strength in the polls could be tied to high expectations for the coming Medicare prescription drug plan, which was devised by the Bush White House and rammed through Congress with minimal Democratic support. As a result of the highly partisan nature of the bill's passage, it was no wonder that older voters switched their voting pattern in 2004 and backed Republicans in nearly unprecedented numbers (remember that Al Gore carried older voters by a healthy margin in 2000).
New polling indicates, however, that seniors are ready to come home to the Democratic Party. Similar to the polling referenced in my post last month, which found that a vast majority of older voters found the Republican Rx plan confusing, the latest polling on the bungled program shows older voters particularly disapproving.
The Kaiser Family Foundation, which is deeply involved in healthcare around the country, commissioned a poll this month studying Americans' attitudes towards the new program, and the results of the survey are quite interesting. Among Americans aged 65 and older, only about a third understand the new program, while three-fifths do not. Even more noteworthy, among this same subset of voters, only 23 percent hold a favorable view towards the program while almost twice as many hold an unfavorable view towards it.
In order to maximize their electoral potential for 2006, the Democrats must tap into seniors' widespread discontent and confusion about the Republican-envisioned Medicare prescription drug plan. And there is quite a bit of room for Democratic growth among seniors this November. A cursory look at exit polling from the last two presidential elections finds that had John Kerry performed as well among seniors as had Al Gore (just 52 percent of the two-party popular vote), he would have received a full 1.5 percent more of the popular vote -- perhaps enough to have shifted a key swing state or two in the direction of the Democrats, thus possibly changing the outcome of the election. Given the fact that a large plurality of older Americans are already discontented with the Republican program, it's not at all inconceivable that the Democrats would be able to pull in 52 percent of the support of older voters, or perhaps even more, pushing them above 50 percent in the national, popular vote for the House this fall and ensuring that at least one half of Congress is under Democratic control next year.