Seniors Sour on Health Care Reform, Just Like Social Security Changes

Democrats are running into the same trouble with health care reform as Republicans did with Social Security several years ago: senior citizen support.

A Gallup poll released Friday shows adults age 65 and older are the least likely of any age group to think health care reform will benefit them personally -- by a three-to-one margin. As many think reform will reduce their access to health care as do think it wouldn't change their access. Almost 40 percent said reform would worsen their own medical care.

This is simply not good for President Obama and the Democrats running for reelection next year, because senior citizens have a higher voting percentage than any other age group so they punch above their relative weight in the population. (Note: the Gallup poll tested senior "adults" not voters.)

President Bush cut down his own party among senior citizens by pursuing Social Security reform immediately after reelection. Bush's plan had less than 30 percent support among senior voters, even though he toured the country and held press conferences to sell the plan.

"By any objective measure, the campaign has been spectacularly unsuccessful. The president is losing this battle," said Peter Orszag at the time when he worked for the Brookings Institute before becoming Obama's budget director and health care wonk.

Indeed Republicans lost their grip on the senior vote, splitting it with Democrats among voters older than 65 after Bush won voters age 60 and older in 2004.

Democrats wasted no opportunity to accuse Republicans of voting to "privatize" Social Security in 2006. Democrats have swung the anti-Social Security cudgel against the GOP since Barry Goldwater ran for president. It's ironic now that Democrats are losing the same people for the same reason: fear that what seniors have will be lost with reforms. (Obama's recommendations on Medicare are to cut costs through administrative savings, not to deny services to Medicare recipients.)

The impact of plummeting senior support for health care in next year's midterm elections has to be seen in light of the fact that Obama lost seniors to John McCain and made up for it among younger voters. However, other Democrats who won last year might have had greater senior support than Obama. Even though seniors aren't critically important to the Obama-voter coalition that Democrats hope to ride into office next year, a vote lost is a vote lost unless it's made up somewhere else.