By Douglas E. Schoen
Special to the Las Vegas Tribune
As we approach summer in Washington, policymakers and pundits alike
remain distracted by a host of scandals. The alleged targeting of
conservative political groups by IRS officials, while relegated to
Congressional hearings and calls for additional investigations (for
now), will be red meat for candidates running in next year’s midterm
elections. Recent revelations that the NSA has been monitoring phone
calls only adds to the narrative that we’ll likely see play out in the
coming months: government, regardless of its reach, is increasingly
However, it would be political malpractice to assume that fundamental
issues — Medicare, the economy, trade, etc. — will take a backseat to
today’s scandals. As incumbent policymakers know well, taking one’s
eye off these fundamental issues (often at the expense of entire
voting blocs) is often a recipe for failure. This is especially
relevant for voters over 65, who are increasingly drifting to the
Republican Party. Taking into account that nearly six in 10 seniors
voted for Mitt Romney (up from half who voted for McCain 2008), it’s
critical that Democrats right the ship before 2014.
By all accounts, 2012 marked a period in which Democrats were inspired
by a larger turnout of young and non-white voters. However, two years
earlier, seniors comprised 23 percent of the vote (an increase from 16
percent in 2008). The youth vote in 2010 was only 11 percent, down
from 18 percent in 2008. A fired up senior electorate can easily sway
a close election.
With this idea in mind, a key issue for Republicans and Democrats will
be establishing a permanent trust on Medicare. Every American over 65
relies on the program in some way, and a large swath of Medicare
participants have to deal with a chronic medical condition. Seniors
are often afraid of losing their benefits and having programs they
rely on cost more money or get cut altogether.
Case in point is Medicare Part D, the popular prescription drug
benefit. This is a program that has been a sterling success, in a time
when confidence in government is reaching all-time lows. Part D is a
rare example of a government program that has consistently cost less
year after year than originally budgeted. To be specific, it has cost
$348 billion less than original estimates. The Congressional Budget
Office found every one percent increase in prescriptions filled
results in a .20 percent decrease in spending on other Medicare
Key take-away for seniors: what works in heath care is likely to be
well received heading into next year’s election. While Obamacare
continues to experience stagnant approval ratings (the latest polls
continue to trend downward), it’s clear that seniors will gravitate
toward public policies that meet their needs and help to address
health care spending.
For both Democrats and Republicans, the good news is that the senior
vote is still gettable. However, a good portion of voters over 65 pay
close attention to policy specifics, making it more important to
ensure that both parties recognize this. Preserving programs that
work, while prioritizing seniors’ long-term interests, will yield
significant political dividends in 2014 and beyond.
Neither side can afford losing them.
Douglas Schoen is a political strategist and author of Hopelessly
Divided: The New Crisis in American Politics and What it Means for
2012 and Beyond, by Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
By Douglas E. Schoen