Threats to health care helped swing older voters to the Democrats in the midterms

All the talk from Republicans about “reforming” Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security and the unceasing drumbeat about Obamacare repeal has finally made a dent in older voters’ adherence to the Republican party.

Exit polling in 2016 gave Republicans a 54 percent to 44 percent advantage among voters age 50–64. Voters over 65 went Republican 53 percent to 45 percent just two years ago. But what a difference full Republican control over government, under Trump no less, has made. According to exit polling for this midterm, Republicans had just a 51-49 advantage with the 50-64 group, and 50-48 among the over 65s. That was enough of a shift, along with higher-than-normal turnout among younger voters, to offset the advantage Republicans have had. The sheer number of older voters along their propensity to always turn out and to vote for Republicans has given the GOP an advantage in past elections.

But the threat to health care for people with pre-existing conditions, as well as Medicare and Medicaid, and the Democrats’ full-on embrace of the issue appears to have made all the difference. From mid-September to mid-October, analysis of House and Senate campaign ads by the Wesleyan Media Project found that 54.5 percent of all the ads from Democrats talked about health care, whereas just 31.5 percent from Republicans did. Go back to 2010, and from then until this cycle no more than 10 percent of ads from Democrats talked about the issue. That’s in all four elections before this one. Republicans owned it, being four times more likely to advertise against Obamacare than Democrats to defend it. It dominated issue ads this cycle, comprising more than a third of all the election ads. And three-fourths of those 1.2 million ads were from Democrats and organizations backing them.

The “age tax,” as coined by AARP was a huge part of it. That’s the provision in the Trumpcare bill passed by the House that would have let insurers charge people over 50 up to five times more for health insurance. “In races from upstate New York to the Arizona-Mexico border to Cedar Rapids, Iowa to the suburbs of Richmond, Va., Politico reports, “Democratic challengers flipped GOP-held House seats while running ads accusing Republicans of supporting this so-called Age Tax.”

Republicans’ pathetic attacks that Democrats’ Medicare for All plan would destroy Medicare as we know it got absolutely no traction this year, possibly because older voters finally saw what Republicans mean to do their health care. It left the realm of hypothetical once Trumpcare passed the House.

Better late than never?


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