Why seniors aren't scared of Paul Ryan: 4 theories

Democrats are hammering Romney's running mate on his plan to overhaul Medicare, but their "Mediscare" tactics aren't swaying seniors... to a surprising degree

People listen to Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) during a campaign stop in Florida
(Image credit: Gerardo Mora/Getty Images)

"Grandma isn't scared of Paul Ryan," says Aaron Blake at The Washington Post. A game-changing new poll from the Post and ABC News shows that 50 percent of seniors view Mitt Romney's running mate favorably, compared to the much shakier 41 percent favorability rating Ryan enjoys among all Americans. The results surprised many political observers, given that Democrats, including President Obama, have repeatedly argued that Ryan's proposed overhaul of Medicare would deep-six the popular entitlement program as we know it. Here, four explanations for the seniors' unpredictable reaction:

1. The Democratic attacks aren't working

"Democrats' attempts to turn Ryan's Medicare proposal against the GOP haven't stuck yet among the most pivotal group: Seniors," says Blake. "If a Medicare attack was working, after all, seniors would likely be the first group to start deserting Ryan." More worrying for Democrats: A solid 33 percent of seniors "say they hold strongly favorable views of Ryan," which suggests they are "less likely to be swayed into the negative camp," says Alana Goodman at Commentary.

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2. Seniors don't think Ryan's plan will affect them

Ryan and Romney have been "fairly successful at spreading the news" that their ideas for Medicare reform "wouldn't impact anyone over the age of 55, says Goodman. "As long as seniors know that their own current coverage won't be touched, they can look at the reforms with much more open minds." However, health-care experts argue that the Ryan plan would inevitably lead to higher out-of-pocket costs for seniors over 55.

3. They've been duped into thinking Obama is cutting Medicare

Romney "keeps talking about how Obama is 'robbing' Medicare of $716 billion" to finance ObamaCare, says Michael Tomasky at The Daily Beast. The claim is dubious at best. Obama's cuts affect reimbursements to hospitals and private health insurance companies — not benefits for seniors — and restoring the $716 billion would increase out-of-pocket costs by hundreds of dollars and cause Medicare to go bankrupt in four years. Furthermore, Ryan's own proposed Medicare overhaul includes Obama's cuts. But seniors believe Ryan and Romney "will restore funding to Medicare," while Obama has undercut it, says David Weigel at Slate.

4. Ryan is too adorable to be frightening

Ryan "just isn't scary," says Goodman. With his clean-cut looks and beseeching blue eyes, "he's the kind of guy grandparents usually love." Democrats can air ads saying he wants destroy Medicare and would roll Grandma off a cliff, but all the "Mediscare" tactics in the world may not resonate with seniors who've "listened to Ryan talk for more than five minutes."

Sources: Brookings, Commentary, The Daily Beast, Michelle Malkin, The New York Times, Slate, The Washington Post (2)

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