It wasn’t high turnout by younger, liberal voters that stopped the Republican “red wave” in the midterm elections.
It was a huge swing away from the GOP among senior citizens in the battleground races.
The swing was big among men over 65, and huge among women.
So reports a remarkable new poll conducted on behalf of the AARP jointly by Democratic polling company Impact Research and Republican pollsters Fabrizio Ward. The polls, conducted this month and in July, focused on the most competitive Congressional races in the country.
“What we found here is exactly the opposite of what the national exit polls found,” said Tony Fabrizio. “The national exit polls found that…that it was 18-34 year olds that came to the rescue, nationally (for) the Democrats.” But in the battleground races, from July to the election, “the big flip that occurred here was seniors. And senior women drove that flip. The 65-year-old voters…went from favoring the Republicans by 10 to favoring Democrats by 3.”
Among men over 65, the Republican lead halved, the poll data showed.
But among women over 65 the swing was even more dramatic. In July, the Republicans led this group by 2 points. In the election, at least in the competitive races, AARP polling says they lost female senior citizens by 14 points.
And the over 65s made up a third of the voters in these races, Fabrizio said: “Senior citizens certainly made the difference.”
There were multiple factors to explain the swing, the pollsters say.
A big one (or two): Social Security and Medicare.
Social Security & Medicare was the No. 2 issue among women over 65, and No. 4 among men.
John Anzalone of Impact Research, a Democratic pollster, said the Democrats made these major talking points during the campaign in many battleground races. The national media largely missed it, he said, partly because the Democrats focused a lot of their campaign on direct mailings to seniors.
So it wasn’t really visible to under-40 reporters and editors living on Twitter.
Pollsters said seniors were very pleased with parts of president Joe Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act, which capped prescription drug costs and gave Medicare the ability to negotiate drug prices directly. This helped Biden’s approval ratings dramatically among seniors. (Women over 65 were the only group where the president now has a net positive approval rating.)
Seniors were also worried by Republican talk about future cuts to Social Security and Medicare, pollsters said.
As we pointed out before the election, like here and here, Republicans were on dangerous ground in the weeks running up to the midterms by leaving the idea of Social Security cuts on the table. If they weren’t openly planning to cut Social Security, many of them were reluctant to deny it.
(It is notable that the one Trump-based candidate who won his Senate race, J.D. Vance in Ohio, had made an unequivocal statement against Social Security and Medicare cuts.
Social Security used to be called “the third rail” of American politics: Touch it and you die.
Maybe it still is.
These weren’t the only issues motivating seniors in the election, pollsters said. Top issues also included inflation, the economy, abortion, and perceived “threats to democracy,” the pollsters found.
The perceived threats appeared to include memories of the Jan. 6 riot in the U.S. Capitol and continuing claims by some that the 2020 election was stolen.
“Threats to democracy” was the top issue among women over 65, the biggest group to swing to the Democrats and the key group to stopping the Red Wave.
So maybe Donald Trump’s campaign appearances in the week leading up to the vote, and teasers about his 2024 presidential run, helped the Democrats more than the GOP.