For two presidential cycles and during midterm elections as far back as the mid 1990's, older voters have given more votes to Republicans than Democrats. This will change in 2016 and it will change dramatically. Older voters will support Democrats in 2016.
The reasons for this sea change are simple. The Republican Party has fundamentally gone off the deep end. Nearly every single Republican presidential candidate offers a harmful and dramatic set of changes for Social Security that will, without question, lower benefits. And lowering benefits means less money in beneficiaries' monthly Social Security checks. To add insult to injury, many of these same Republican Presidential hopefuls suggest an equally bad set of ideas for Medicare that will give seniors a more expensive and less accessible health care system.
For example, Jeb Bush wants to privatize Social Security, raise the retirement age and end Medicare. Ted Cruz calls for privatizing Social Security, raising the retirement age and cutting benefits. John Kasich supports privatizing Social Security and cutting benefits. Ben Carson favors raising the retirement age and Marco Rubio would like to raise the retirement age and has considered cutting benefits. Only Donald Trump has steered clear of these kinds of proposals, at least so far.
The substance of these ideas is downright frightening. Raising the age for eligibility is a benefit cut, pure and simple. Privatization, either of the entire system or in part via "carve -outs", requires handing Social Security over to Wall Street and the ups and downs of that fiscal rollercoaster. No one is opposed to investing for the future but it ought to be in addition to, not in replacement of, the guarantee of Social Security. And, one has to ask if there is some kind of memory lapse here because Social Security carve outs were rejected back in 2005, when President Bush used his political capital to push the idea. It went nowhere and died within a year.
Republicans have never been this blunt before in expressing their ideas about these programs. In the past, bad ideas were typically hidden in a broader argument. This time, they just say it.
This is odd because it runs counter to how not only older voters but also the rest of the electorate feel. For example, as William Greider tells us in a recent article in The Nation, "The 2016 election is not actually about personalities. It is about ideas, big ideas for governing that, win or lose, can change the country for better or worse." He goes on to report that "Social Security is arguably the federal government's most popular program, more efficient and responsive than most. Overwhelming majorities value it across party lines, age brackets and even income levels. It's supported by Republicans (81 percent) and by Democrats (94 percent) and by independents (91 percent) independents (91 percent), from Baby Boomers to Generation Xers and to millennials. What is most relevant is that strong majorities in all sectors--even 62 percent of Republicans--think the government should consider increasing the benefits."
The same is true for Medicare. In fact, nearly every pollster will tell you both Democratic and Republican voters strongly support Social Security and Medicare.
These hammers of change proposed by the Republicans will cost them in election 2016. It will cost them because the 75.4 million baby boomers (who have reached "senior age") are in worse shape economically than their parents. They don't have the savings; their 401(k)s have sunk in value, and the equity in the homes they own has diminished - witness the recession just a few years ago. Voters, who worry about paying their bills, don't want their Social Security benefits messed with. And, they certainly don't want their health care costs to go up. Older voters who are 75 years of age and over are equally nervous, if not terrified, of these changes.
The best way to summarize the Republican presidential candidate approach to retirement and health security for the aging voter is to say it is similar to telling a person in deep dangerous water to throw away their life raft.
As impossible as it seems, there is another backdrop that makes things worse. For only the third time in four decades, Social Security recipients will not be getting an annual cost of living adjustment (COLA) next year. Their checks will stay the same. although we all know that living expenses have gone up for retirees and other recipients. Over the course of December of this year, millions of Social Security recipients are receiving letters from the Social Security Administration (SSA) announcing this bad news.
This has to do with the formula used by SSA to calculate the COLA. It turns out that the current measure does not yield any increase in benefits. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass) has introduced the Seniors and Veterans Emergency Benefits Act (Save Benefits Act), a bill that will close a tax loophole for Wall Street and use that money to pay for a onetime $580 payment to seniors, veterans, and disabled Americans for 2016 to offset the harm of a zero COLA. It is co-sponsored by a score of Democratic Senators. This bill would undoubtedly provide a deserved relief for seniors, veterans and persons with disabilities, but Republicans have yet to champion this issue.
Older voters are the most engaged voting group in America. The zero COLA for 2016 will leave this group looking for a way to express their anger. Mix that with the outlandish and off putting plans proposed for Social Security and Medicare described above and we will see the change anticipated here. Older voters will vote Democratic in 2016.