Seniors 65+ on Medicare, the Presidential Debate, and the Economy Posted on October 15, 2012 | Focus Group

Resurgent Republic sponsored two focus groups in Tampa, Florida, among seniors age 65 and older who supported Barack Obama in 2008 and are not strongly affiliated with either candidate today. Conducted by McLaughlin & Associates, the groups were split by gender.

Seniors are one of the most reliable voting blocs in presidential elections, and turnout this November will follow suit. According to our most recent national survey conducted prior to the Denver presidential debate, 48 percent of seniors 65 and older approved of President Obama's handling of the economy, which is the exact same percentage as his ballot support (Governor Romney led 50 to 48 percent). By 50 to 45 percent, seniors viewed Romney as better able to handle the economy. On the traditionally Democratic issue of Medicare, Obama held a two-point advantage, 47 to 45 percent, which is a much smaller margin than previous elections. Medicare is undoubtedly an important issue for this voting cohort, but so is the economy and job creation, especially as they consider opportunities for their children and grandchildren. The following are key highlights from our focus groups Obama seniors 65+:

  1. The state of the Medicare debate among seniors in Florida. These voters perceive President Obama as better able to handle Medicare, but like the survey numbers above show, this sentiment is not as strong when compared to previous elections in large part due to Obamacare. Yet conservatives should be aware of the challenges that remain when talking about Medicare. Here are four key observations on the Medicare debate based upon our focus groups in the Sunshine State:

    • Including TV ads, direct mail, and phone calls, participants in our groups have heard a lot about Medicare during the presidential race. They seem to have been contacted evenly by the Obama and Romney campaigns, and the messages that have registered include the $716 billion in Medicare cuts from Obamacare and Congressman Ryan's "voucher" plan.

    • There was little awareness that the reforms proposed by Congressman Ryan do not affect seniors or those near retirement. When reminded, participants were receptive of this fact, but also had concerns regarding what Medicare would look like for their children.

    • Those who oppose Obamacare should communicate how the law personally affects seniors. Referencing the $716 billion in cuts is not the same as communicating how the reduction negatively impacts those on the popular Medicare Advantage program or increases the likelihood that doctors will refuse to treat Medicare patients (a scenario familiar to several of our participants). The former argument succeeds in putting President Obama on the defensive, but the latter message is more persuasive with seniors. This is also why arguments against the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) are effective. Seniors comprehend how giving an unelected board of bureaucrats unprecedented authority to manage Medicare hinders their choices and quality of care.

    • Seniors are reluctant to believe Congress will let Medicare go bankrupt. This is the most significant long-term challenge for those proposing Medicare reforms. The men were more likely to acknowledge the insolvency problem than the women, but when pushed, both groups largely feel Congress will eventually come up with a solution. To be clear, this is their top-line impression and explaining the spending and demographic trends can sway their opinions.

  2. Seniors closely watched the first presidential debate and unanimously feel President Obama delivered a lackluster performance. Of the 20 voters in both groups, all but one senior watched at least part of the Denver debate. The participants expressed surprise at how poorly the president came across. As one senior noted, "I was just stunned at how bad Obama was. I think he thought he had it won and was over confident." In trying to rationalize the outcome, a few participants went as far to say the president’s poor showing might have been intentional in order to highlight a better performance in the subsequent debates. Even more troubling for the president, multiple participants questioned whether he really wants a second term in office.

  3. Participants unanimously gave Governor Romney the winning decision and many learned new information about the challenger's background and experience. The participants commented that Romney was prepared and struck an appropriate balance of being aggressive, but not overtly rude. The candidate they saw on the debate stage was a positive contrast to the person they expected to see based upon negative advertising. One of the more interesting anecdotes, several seniors responded favorably to Romney's ability to get things done on a bipartisan basis during his tenure as Governor. This was new information to one man who commented, "I didn't know that when he was Governor of Massachusetts that he was able to be so successful" in working with an overwhelmingly Democratic legislature.

  4. These seniors were largely mixed on the current state of the economy. When asked to describe the economy in a word or phrase, responses included positive and negative descriptors like "horrible," "disappointing," "needs change desperately," "worse than the depression," "improving slowly," "inching in repair mode," and "turning around." The anecdotal evidence participants cited of an improving economy included home values and improvements in the stock market.

    Moreover, unemployment dropping below 8 percent did not produce a game-changing shift in how seniors perceive President Obama's stewardship of the economy. Like we've heard in prior groups, participants question whether the unemployment rate is an accurate reflection of the health of the economy, citing underemployment and those who have ended their job search. Their frustration about the state of the economy remains deep and is the reason they desire to hear specific plans from both presidential candidates as to how the economy will move forward over the next four years. As one women stated, "I think he [Romney] has the know-how" to do just that.




All voters in these two focus groups supported President Obama in 2008 and are not strongly affiliated with either candidate today.

Tampa, Florida
October 9, 2012
Groups separated by gender
Conducted by McLaughlin & Associates

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