Democrats seize on health care to woo seniors in 2020

Democrats seize on health care to woo seniors in 2020
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Democrats are making a play for older voters, the powerful voting bloc that largely backed President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump fires intelligence community inspector general who flagged Ukraine whistleblower complaint Trump organization has laid off over 1000 employees due to pandemic: report Trump invokes Defense Production Act to prevent export of surgical masks, gloves MORE in 2016 and is key to winning the White House in November.

Older Americans have the highest voter turnout rates, making their support crucial for whoever wants to win the White House in 2020.

Democrats best Republicans in support from younger voters and people of color, but there are simply not enough of them actively voting to beat Trump without winning over some of the baby boomers, argues Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster.

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“There’s no question of turning out older voters. We know they’ll be there. It’s a question of moving them over to us,” Lake said.

Fifty-two percent of Americans aged 65 and older who voted in 2016 supported Trump, versus the 45 percent who backed former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonFormer Obama adviser Plouffe predicts 'historical level' of turnout by Trump supporters Poll: More Republican voters think party is more united than Democratic voters Whoopi Goldberg presses Sanders: 'Why are you still in the race?' MORE.

Favorability polls tend to show women are less likely than men to support the president. Trump’s support is highest among baby boomers, who are between the ages of 55 and 73.

As such, Democrats should focus their efforts on older women, who may be persuaded to abandon Trump given their concern for some of his actions, Lake said.

“The way to make sure Donald Trump can’t win is to pull out older white women. If we can do that, he can’t put it together, he can’t add the numbers up,” she said. “These older women are very, very concerned about Donald Trump’s erratic leadership and very worried he could tweet us into a war.”

Voters older than 65 are expected to make up 32 percent of Republican voters in 2020, according to the Brookings Institute, compared to 23 percent of Democratic voters.

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Trump’s support among older voters has remained stable throughout his presidency and has propped up his favorability ratings.

“Republicans depend heavily on older voters in order to win elections. That's particularly true at the presidential level,” said John Hudak, deputy director of the Center for Effective Public Management and a senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institute.

There’s no evidence so far that older voters are moving to Democrats ahead of the presidential election. But if that is going to happen, it will be after the convention, when Democrats pick a nominee, Hudak said.

“I think that part of that reason is that the president isn't really being held to account by Democrats on specific policy issues. Right now Democrats are in the primary fight,” he said.

Still, Democrats are trying to make a dent in Trump's numbers by attacking the president’s positions on Medicare and Social Security.

Priorities USA, the largest Democratic super PAC, launched ads this month in key swing states arguing Trump’s proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year cuts Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

“Donald Trump promised to protect Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security but continues to try and cut them while giving massive tax breaks to billionaires and big corporations,” Patrick McHugh, executive director of Priorities USA, said in a statement earlier this month.

The Trump administration has pushed back on that characterization, arguing that the budget just proposes a reduction in the growth of spending by about $600 billion over the next 10 years. But spending on the program would still increase over that time period, just at a lower rate. That’s accomplished by cutting what the administration deems wasteful payments to providers, similar to proposals offered by former President Obama. The reductions are unlikely to affect benefits, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.

Meanwhile, changes to Social Security don’t impact the retirement portion of the program, but cut retroactive coverage for disability insurance.

The changes to those programs, though, are likely to spark alarm for seniors.

Nina Turner, the co-chairwoman of Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersOvernight Energy: Oil giants meet with Trump at White House | Interior extends tenure of controversial land management chief | Oil prices tick up on hopes of Russia-Saudi deal Oil giants meet at White House amid talk of buying strategic reserves The Hill's Campaign Report: Biden struggles to stay in the spotlight MORE’s (I-Vt.) presidential campaign, penned an op-ed Wednesday writing that “Social Security is at stake in this election.”

“To both defeat Trump in this election and strengthen Social Security, we must choose Bernie Sanders as our Democratic nominee, because he has an unwavering record fighting against Social Security cuts -- and fighting for an expansion of the program,” Turner wrote.

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Trump has sent mixed signals about the issue. While he has frequently said he would never touch entitlements, when asked by a reporter last month if reform would ever be on his plate, he replied, “At some point, they will be.”

There is one issue that could work against Democrats as they look to get support from baby boomers: the party's debate over “Medicare for All.”

Sanders, the front-runner for the party’s nomination and lead sponsor of the Senate’s Medicare for All bill, is lagging in support among baby boomers.

“They’re more concerned about the pressure it will put on Medicare,” Lake said.

But, she added, “It’s easy to get these older voters by just saying a separate ‘Medicare for All system.’ Not just putting a whole bunch of people on Medicare.”

Trump has tried to bolster his support among older voters who can be socially conservative by passing policies restricting abortion and promoting religious freedom.

But ultimately, Hudak said, voters care more about policies that impact their personal finances.

“Most voters vote with their pocketbooks,” he said. “And I think if an older voter sees one party or the other as a threat to their personal well-being that’s a much stronger motivator.”