Courting the Youth Vote, Democrats Overlook Power of Seniors

Democrats have a problem.

One day after another, President Obama is out trying to light a fire under young people to get them to vote next week, but the real problem for Democrats is at the other end of the age spectrum —seniors— who are far more likely to turn out.

Political handicappers say seniors are the key to any election.

"Almost one out of three voters this cycle will be 60 years old or older," pollster Scott Rasmussen told Fox News. "More than 20 percent will be over 65; it's a huge segment of the electorate."

Democratic strategist Doug Schoen agrees. "[Seniors] are the single most reliable voting group in the electorate," he said.

"In an off-year election," Schoen adds, "they're a group that is probably of greatest importance in the waning days of a campaign."

But seniors are not only the most reliable voters, they're also among the most unhappy with the Obama Administration and Democrats in Congress.

"Right now it's very difficult for Democrats amongst seniors," Rasmussen said. "In fact, on the generic congressional ballot, seniors today are going by 18 points in favor of the Republicans — a huge margin. One of the reasons: health care."

Seniors, of course, use the doctor more than folks in their twenties, and Rasmussen's polling found 58 percent of seniors want the new law repealed.

"Seniors are against [the health care law] in large numbers, because they fear it's going to cost them health care benefits," Schoen said. "And the Democrats are doing everything they can to change the subject and change the conversation."

Democrats are trying to do just that — and at the same time, maybe win some support from seniors — by accusing Republicans of trying dismantle both social security and Medicare. A fresh effort by Democrats to use that issue argues that Republicans will make people work much longer by delaying full Social Security benefits until age 70.

An ad from Democratic group Protecting America's Retirees depicts people who appear to be in their 70's working as cab drivers, firemen, miners, and lifeguards. One elderly gentleman is bouncing behind a jackhammer and another is on a ladder working on wires on a telephone pole. The announcer blames the need for these seniors to work on Republicans, saying, "What are seniors hoping for if Republicans take over Congress? You're hoping things will change?"

"Hope you're also planning to stay on the job," the ad continues. "Because at least one change means seniors will have to work. And work. And keep right on working. Yes, that's right. The Republican leadership wants to raise your retirement age to 70."Rasmussen chuckled at the Protecting America's Retirees ad. "You know that's, I guess, one of the inevitable consequences of a campaign season. When your team is losing among seniors, you want to try to scare them back on your side," he said."Rather than trying to have a rational debate or discussion about what they want to do for seniors and what they think the failings are of the Republican policies, they've engaged in over the top scare tactics that in my judgment, are doomed to fail," Schoen said of the ad.

Contrary to the ad's claims, the Republican leadership has not, in fact, moved to change the retirement age to 70. But Paul Ryan, a Republican leader, does propose that the retirement age should increase as people live longer. Under his proposal, the retirement age would increase by one month every two years beginning in 2021; the retirement age under Paul's plan wouldn't hit 70 until the 2090's, long after most of us have stopped voting -- and breathing.

Many members of both parties support a slow increase in the retirement age, including former presidential hopefuls Gary Hart and Bill Bradley. Neutral analysts, who know that Social Security is unsustainable over the long term, agree that raising the retirement age over several decades rather than all at once is the least painful choice. Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Budget, says "if you don't raise the retirement age, you have to lower benefits and more people fall into poverty."

But this year, warning seniors of the prospect of drastically raising the retirement age could be seen as a last-ditch effort by Democrats to win back a few elderly votes in an election that is looking grim for the party's lawmakers.

"Where the Democrats are losing the senior vote, and losing it potentially by double digits," Schoen said. "This is an attack that they have to run with increasing vigor, because, frankly, they don't have much else... to level against an ascendant Republican party."

Rassmussen argues the challenge to Democrats is in the numbers. "The more the seniors show up to vote, the worse it is for the Democratic Party," he said.