Every election season in recent political history has brought about its fair share of surprises. 2014 is no exception.
Earlier this year, we saw House Majority Leader Eric Cantor lose to Tea Party backed challenger Dave Brat. In the Kansas Senate race, Independent candidate Greg Orman is leading Republican Pat Roberts by up to five points, depending on the poll. And in Kentucky, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is barely leading Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes, with his lead well within the margin of error.
And though countless races across the country will come down to the wire – especially in the Senate – enthusiasm for this election, and these candidates, will be a central factor in who comes out on top.
A Gallup survey out earlier this month reinforces the lack of enthusiasm. Compared to 2010, in which more than half of voters stated that they were “extremely motivated to vote” (nearly half said the same in 2006), Gallup’s latest finding is only a third of voters. The survey also found that just over a third are “more enthusiastic than usual.”
It follows that both the Republicans and Democrats are working overtime to mobilize their voters, but in the process they may be missing out on a voting bloc which always turns out: senior citizens.
Considering seniors’ potential impact on the outcome of this year’s election, it’s a wonder that Washington isn’t focusing more on the senior vote, which has the potential swing sharply. Indeed, in 2010, seniors voted for Republicans by a significant 21-point margin. Two years later, according to exit polls, nearly 60% voted for Mitt Romney.
Unsurprisingly, protecting Social Security and Medicare is a top priority for senior voters. Democrats have typically been ahead on issues related to entitlement programs by fighting Republicans on spending cuts, but recent trends have shown that it’s anybody’s game.
So what should Democrats and Republicans do to win the senior vote? Put simply, they need to get behind what’s working. And the Medicare prescription drug benefit is a shining example of good, effective and efficient delivery of healthcare.
The program garners a nearly 90% approval rate among Americans 65 and older, and has been proven to bend the health care spending curve by helping patients manage and prevent chronic disease.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, total overall costs for Medicare Part D came in $349 billion less than was originally projected between 2004 and 2013. Additionally, for seniors who rely on the program, the average monthly premium is only set to increase $1 from $31 to $32 next year.
One should rightly wonder how a program yielding these kinds of results could be under threat, but it is. Ideas that undermine the competitive structure of the program or impose Medicaid-style price controls (or “rebates”) could lead to higher copays and beneficiary premiums, and would hinder Medicare Part D’s current success.
In light of recent polling that shows Obamacare-impacted voters oppose the law by almost a 2-1 margin, the Obama administration should also be doubling down on smart public policies and Republicans shouldn’t be focusing on cutting spending to a program that benefits so many.
Accordingly, politicians hoping to be successful in November, on both sides of the aisle, should be focusing substantial efforts towards the senior vote, and making it clear that they will fight to preserve programs that are working will help foster a lasting impression with a critical voting bloc.
And in a close election in which one state outcome could determine control of the senate, every vote counts.