Could seniors sink Obama in 2012?

Much attention has been focused recently on the alleged and so-called “Republican War on Women,” which has produced a gender gap that in some polls recently has exceeded 20 percent.

But there is another war that is soon likely to be declared– the war on senior citizens– that both parties will be no doubt be fighting, and probably is just as important in determining the outcome of this year’s presidential election.

First, a little history.

In 2008, voters over the age of 65 made up 16% of the electorate, and Republican John McCain won that group by a 53 to 45% margin over the ultimate winner, President Obama.

Similarly, in 2004, Republican George W. Bush won at 52 to 47% victory over Democratic challenger, John Kerry.

In both 2008 and 2004, voters over the age of 65 were 16% of the electorate.

The swing though, between 2004 and 2008 did reflect substantial movement to the Republicans, because while George W. Bush won a narrow victory overall, in 2008 John McCain lost by close to 6 points to President Obama nationally. ;

All the while, the senior citizen vote went to the Republicans by a margin that increased up from 5 up to 8 points in 2008.

The real shift though among seniors came in 2010, in the Congressional elections.

First, seniors share of the vote from 16% in 2004 and 2008, increased up to 21%, thus making them a more important block of voters. And the exit polls showed that seniors delivered a decisive vote on behalf of Republican House candidates, winning the national exit poll 59% to 38% for the Republicans– a huge 21 point margin.

Put another way, the massive swing among seniors, no doubt motivated in large measure by concerns about the president’s health care bill, produced a swing to the Republicans from just two years before, of greater than double digits– which delivered the House for the GOP.

This has profound implications for campaign 2012.

President Obama cannot hope to be reelected unless he can narrow the widening gap that has been emerging with senior citizens. Which is why the Democrats’ success last year, in the special election in upstate New York, was so important when they ran against the Ryan plan. It was a dry-run for campaign 2012.

Rest assured, you will see the Democrats continuing to campaign against any plan to reform entitlements, Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security during the election campaign, if only because they understand all too well that unless they can narrow this gap with seniors, it will be difficult, if not impossible, for the president to be reelected.

So, the implications of this are clear.

The Democrats are almost certainly going to avoid any constructive discussion of entitlement reform before the election, and you can expect that the demonization of Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan and the entire Republican party will almost certainly morph into the “Republican war on our elderly” some time very soon.

This could well be the hidden key to campaign 2012.

Douglas E. Schoen is a Democratic pollster, strategist, and commentator. ; ;Schoen, who served as a pollster for President Bill Clinton, is author of several books including the forthcoming “Hopelessly Divided: The New Crisis in American Politics and What It Means for 2012 and Beyond” (Rowman and Littlefield). Follow him on Twitter @DouglasESchoen.