Romney running into trouble with seniors over healthcare
Even before his running mate was booed giving a speech to a lobbying group for older Americans last Friday, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney was losing support among such voters, whose backing is crucial to his hopes of winning the 6 November election.
New polling by Ipsos indicates that during the past two weeks – since just after the Democratic National Convention – support for Mr Romney among Americans age 60 and older has crumbled, from a 20-point lead over president Barack Obama to less than four points.
Mr Romney’s double-digit leads among older voters on the issues of healthcare and Medicare – the nation’s health insurance programme for over-65s and the disabled – have also evaporated, and Mr Obama has begun to build an advantage in both areas.
Mr Romney’s selection of Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan as his vice-presidential running-mate put the federal budget and Medicare at centre stage in the campaign. But the debate has not unfolded the way Republicans wanted.
At the Democratic convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, on 5 September, former president Bill Clinton gave a blistering critique of Mr Ryan’s plan to revamp Medicare, warning that it could leave elderly people unprotected from escalating healthcare costs.
Meanwhile, Democrat efforts to portray Mr Romney as a wealthy former private equity executive with little sympathy for the less fortunate got a boost last week from the man himself.
On a secretly recorded video released by the liberal magazine Mother Jones, Mr Romney was shown telling supporters at a $50,000-a-head fundraiser that 47 per cent of Americans would never vote for him because they do not pay federal income taxes, feel they are “victims,” and depend on government benefits.
Democrats accused Mr Romney of dismissing a range of Americans, including elderly people who depend on government programmes such as Medicare and Social Security.
The Romney campaign rejected that, but the recent polls suggest such claims may be resonating with the over-60s, who for months had been the only age group to consistently support Mr Romney over Mr Obama.
Analysts say that if Mr Romney cannot reverse the trend, he won’t win on 6 November.
“If Romney loses seniors, he loses this election, period,” said Jonathan Oberlander, a health policy specialist at the University of North Carolina. “A bad showing nationally [among older voters] does not bode well for Florida and other states with big senior populations.”
Mr Ryan’s plan for Medicare would limit its costs by converting it from a provider of popular benefits to a system giving future beneficiaries a financial stipend to help pay for private insurance or traditional Medicare.
Mr Obama and fellow Democrats say Mr Ryan’s approach – largely embraced by Republicans, including Mr Romney – would further expose seniors to rising healthcare costs and hasten Medicare’s financial instability. Medicare serves nearly 50 million retired and disabled Americans, and polls show stiff public resistance to the Ryan plan, with older voters opposing it by a two to one ratio.
AARP, a grassroots lobbying group with 37 million members aged 50 and over, has backed Mr Obama’s healthcare plan. So it wasn’t too surprising last week when Mr Ryan, speaking at an AARP convention in New Orleans, faced a tough audience.
Less than five minutes into Mr Ryan’s speech, there were boos and cries of “No!” as he laid out the Republican message on Medicare and vowed to repeal “Obamacare”.
But the Ipsos polling data – along with similar results from surveys of older voters by the Pew Research Centre – indicate that the New Orleans crowd’s response could be more than just one large group’s discomfort with the Romney-Ryan ticket.
A Pew poll, conducted between 12-16 September and released last week, showed Mr Romney with only a one percentage point lead – 47 per cent to 46 per cent – among registered voters aged 65-plus. He also trailed Mr Obama by seven points among people aged 45 to 64 – a huge bloc that analysts say is increasingly concerned about retirement security.
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