When Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan was booed by an audience of senior citizens last week, it was a sign that the elderly -- typically considered one of the backbones of the GOP -- may be breaking ranks in 2012.
New polling from Reuters/Ipsos seems to confirm it. In the two weeks since the Democratic National Convention, Reuters reports that support for Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney among older voters has dropped precipitously, from a 20-point lead over President Barack Obama to less than 4 points.
Other recent polling shows Romney has lost significant advantages among elderly voters when it comes to issues such as health care and Medicare, the nation’s federal health insurance program for the disabled and individuals over age 65. Half of voters in 12 key election battleground states say they have more faith in Obama’s ability to develop a specific plan capable of tackling the problems currently facing Medicare, compared to the 44 percent who said they trusted Romney, according to a Gallup poll released Monday.
Nationally, Obama’s lead on the issue increases to 51 percent.
Finding ways to strengthen the Medicare program is a concern for a large majority of Americans. In July, a USA Today/Gallup poll found that about 85 percent of Americans said they believed ensuring the long-term viability of both Medicare and Social Security -- both safety net programs that primarily benefit the elderly -- should be a priority for the next president.
Choosing Paul Ryan as VP May Have Backfired
By selecting Ryan, who has a reputation as one of Congress’ most serious policy wonks, as his running mate, Gallup notes that Romney likely hoped he would benefit from voters' increasing concern about Medicare, by choosing a vice president who actually has a specific plan to address the issue. But it seems like the strategy may have backfired.
Ryan’s Medicare plan would ostensibly lower the program’s skyrocketing costs by transforming it into a kind of voucher system that would give future beneficiaries a stipend to help pay for either a private health insurance plan or traditional Medicare. Republicans argue that by including private insurers in Medicare, market pressures will naturally push costs down.
Democrats have consistently argued that Ryan’s approach, which has mostly been embraced by the GOP, would “end Medicare as we know it" and cost seniors an estimated $6,000 a year for the same coverage. But that figure actually refers to estimates included in the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO) analysis of Ryan's initial Medicare plan, which did not include the option for traditional Medicare.
Ryan has not yet submitted an updated version of his plan to the CBO, Politifact notes, making it difficult to determine whether the Republican plan can actually provide comprehensive coverage without passing on those costs to seniors.
Romney has also done his part to put off older voters. On a covertly recorded video released by Mother Jones last week, Romney – as the whole world likely knows by now – was shown telling wealthy supporters that 47 percent of Americans would never vote for him because they do not pay federal income taxes, and implied many of them choose to depend on government benefits instead of getting a job.
But that 47 percent figure, despite Romney’s professed belief, includes many Republicans. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reports that in 2009, 22 percent of the people that did not pay federal income taxes were aged 65 or older, and would only qualify for taxation if it came out of their Social Security benefits.
One analyst told Reuters that if the downward trend among elderly voters continues, Romney’s election chances are toast.
"If Romney loses seniors, he loses this election, period," said Jonathan Oberlander, a health policy specialist at the University of North Carolina. "A bad showing nationally [among older voters] does not bode well for Florida and other states with big senior populations."
White, Working-Class Voters Also Jumping Ship
Like senior citizens, white, working-class voters are, stereotypically, considered to be a solid, Republican-voting demographic.
But a new survey of 2,501 adults from the Public Religion Research Institute is challenging that assumption. In a report titled “Beyond God and Guns: Understanding the Complexities of White Working Class Americans,” researchers found that most working-class Americans are no more likely than white-college educated Americans to consider themselves part of the tea party movement.
That demographic is not, contrary to popular belief, politically animated by social issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage, according to the report, which said only 1 in 20 white working-class voters said either of those issues will influence their vote.
Among those voters, there was only a significant lead for Romney over Obama in the South (62 percent vs. 22 percent). Neither candidate held a strong lead in the West, Northeast or the Midwest.
The percentage of Americans who identify as Republicans appears to be dropping among most demographics. An average of 672 polls found that the number of Americans identifying as Republicans has dropped about 5 percentage points since May, down to 25.6 percent.