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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Senior ‘Persuadables,’ HCR and November 2

Senior voters are getting lots of love from both major parties this year, leading up to the November elections. First, they are a large portion of the mid-term turnout — in the 2006 mid-terms, 29 percent of the electorate in House of Reps races were over 60, according to CNN’s exit polling.
Secondly, many are skeptical about the landmark HCR Act. As Jeffrey Young’s post “AARP, Dems lobby older voters on healthcare law before midterms” at The Hill explains further, “A Gallup poll released two weeks ago found just 36 percent of people 65 or older thought the healthcare law is a “good thing,” compared to 54 percent who said it is a “bad thing.”
The Republicans are focusing on one of the Act’s Medicare-related provisions as a political fulcrum, as Young explains:

Republican criticisms of Democrats using nearly $500 billion in Medicare spending cuts to finance new coverage for the uninsured fueled seniors’ anxiety…The most obvious potential short-term drawback for seniors is the possibility of cutbacks in the Medicare Advantage program…Republican proponents of the private Medicare Advantage plans, as well as the insurance companies that provide them, maintain that slashing the subsidies will result in many plans exiting the market, reducing benefits or raising premiums. The Congressional Budget Office partly backs up this contention, concluding that 1.5 million fewer people will be covered by Medicare Advantage plans by 2019.

Despite the daunting poll figures, defenders of the legislation have some selling points, as Young points out:

To counter the anti-healthcare reform message, Obama and his allies are highlighting the new or improved benefits under the law…“I want seniors to know, despite some of the stuff that’s been said out there, these reforms don’t cut into your guaranteed benefits,” Obama said last week. “What they do is eliminate co-payments and deductibles for preventive care, like checkups and mammograms. You will be getting those for free now.”
Perhaps the biggest selling point for Medicare beneficiaries is the gradual phasing-out of the so-called doughnut hole coverage gap that is currently part of the Medicare Part D drug benefit; this year, beneficiaries who fall into the gap will receive a $250 rebate…In addition, advocates of the law are trumpeting enhanced prevention and wellness benefits such as a free annual physical and expanded access to home-and community-based medical and assisted-living services.

If the aforementioned Gallup poll is right, at least ten percent of over-65 seniors can be described as ‘persuadable,’ which is not a lot to work with. There are no data yet that provide a clear conclusion about the “intensity” of the opposition to the HCR act among the over-60’s, but surely some of those who now disapprove of the legislation could be turned around with persuasive appeals. The white house, Democrats and the AARP are trying to make that happen, and Young’s post provides a good account of the strategy to date.
(Update/Question: Might a strategy that targets ‘younger’ seniors, say 60-65, based on the assumption that some may still have some dormant late 1960’s attitude remaining, produce good results?)
At the same time, however, Dems have to bring their “A” game to the mid-term campaign in mobilizing more sympathetic constituencies. As Ed Kilgore noted in his TDS post, “Seniors, Obama and 2010” back in September, “Democratic success in 2010 will depend on either better performances among seniors than in 2008, or better turnout–or even higher Democratic percentages–elsewhere….Democrats need a 2010 strategy that takes it for granted that disproportionate white senior turnout could be a big problem. Stronger-than-usual turnout among young and minority voters is obviously one way to deal with it, and that will take some serious work.”

One comment on “Senior ‘Persuadables,’ HCR and November 2

  1. janinsanfran on

    I wouldn’t count on “younger seniors” (my age cohort). We’re anxiety ridden about aging in an economic decline.
    Having put a lot of energy over the past year into talking health care reform among seniors, the most difficult hurdle for getting out the ones who are persuadable is going to be rekindling hope. Folks thought the Obama election portended a happier old age, some return to sanity. Instead they see paralysis and division and the conservative members of their own set chortling. There is deep depression and cynicism out there. Were they conned in 2008?
    They won’t vote unless hope can be rekindled.


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