Voters 65 and older used to be a reliably Democratic constituency. Then, in 2010, they flocked to the GOP, supporting Republican congressional candidates by a 59 percent to 38 percent margin — a brutal 21-point spread that contributed significantly to the GOP's takeover of the House. In 2012, older voters stuck with the GOP, by a smaller 12-point margin (56 percent to 44 percent).
And now, "there's something going on with seniors," says Erica Seifert at The National Memo. In a series of polls since mid-2011, when Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-Wis.) Medicare plan "became widely known (and despised) among those at or nearing retirement," seniors started drifting back out of the Republican fold. And "it is now strikingly clear that they have turned sharply against the GOP."
To voters from the center right to the far left, the GOP is now defined by resistance, intolerance, intransigence, and economics that would make even the Robber Barons blush. We have seen other voters pull back from the GOP, but among no group has this shift been as sharp as it is among senior citizens. [National Memo]
By overwhelming margins, Seifert says, seniors want to protect Medicare (89 percent), raise pay for working women (87 percent), cut subsidies for oil companies, agribusiness, multinational corporations and put that money toward infrastructure, education, and technology (74 percent), and expand ObamaCare's state health insurance exchanges (66 percent).
All of these issues will be critical to the national debate as the 2014 election nears. The more seniors hear from Republicans on these and other issues, the more we can expect the GOP's advantage among this important group to decline. And we can count on one thing in 2014: Seniors will vote. [National Memo]
Now, The National Memo is a very liberal site, and Seifert works for Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg's firm, which has most prominently promoted the theory that older voters are returning to the Democrats. And the 2014 elections are more than a year away. Still, other experts are seeing similar trends.
Susan MacManus, a political scientist at the University of South Florida, tells the AARP that "young-old" women disapprove of the GOP's stances on social issues like gay rights and abortion, and that's probably taking a toll on the Republican poll numbers.
What the GOP is only starting to realize is that "'seniors' change characteristics all the time," as older people die and are replaced by slightly younger old people, says Heather "Digby" Parton at Hullabaloo. These relative youngsters "are called baby boomers and they have a very different set of beliefs, experiences and political affiliations than those who are dying out."
I don't know how much these new numbers are a reflection of that. But the vanguard of the baby boom has been entering the category of Senior Citizen since 2007. And like I said, there are a lot of them. I'd be very surprised if they aren't t least partly responsible for this change in senior attitudes.... It the GOP is assuming this very active and politically aware demographic is a carbon copy of their own parents that would be a big mistake. [Hullabaloo]
Kevin Drum at Mother Jones isn't convinced. Comparing how people felt in 2010 with how they will feel in 15 months seems a bit of a stretch, he says, "and the fact that you think the GOP is too extreme on an issue or three doesn't mean you're going to vote against them." It looks like the Democrats have an opening, especially with Medicare, but if the drop-off in GOP support is "because Tea-Partyish seniors think the GOP leadership isn't conservative enough, that certainly doesn't suggest much of a pickup opportunity for Democrats."
Some professional political prognosticators aren't sold either. So far, the 2014 electorate "looks about 3 points more Republican than the turnout from last November," says Charlie Cook at National Journal. That's bad news for Democrats. But "the possibility of a shift among older voters is something to be watched carefully," he adds. And because older voters will almost certainly vote in greater numbers than unmarried women, minorities, and younger voters, "any changes could be important" in the older voting patters — and winning the 65+ vote could be the Democrats' best hope.
The 2014 midterms won't be all about senior citizens, however. Here are Charlie Cook's five things to watch: