Dec 21, 2022
What were the most important issues for swing voters in this year's midterm elections? You probably won't be surprised to hear that two of them were abortion and inflation. The third, which got far less media attention, was Social Security and Medicare.
Democrats need to stand unified against even a single penny of benefit cuts.
That data matches what I saw on the ground in the months leading up to the election. I'm best known as "Bowzer" from the band Sha Na Na, but these days I'm President of Social Security Works PAC. In that capacity, I traveled to 35 swing districts from coast to coast where I did more than 50 events on behalf of candidates who support protecting and expanding Social Security. The crowds at those events were large, well-informed, and passionate about protecting and expanding our earned benefits.
The people at these events were filled with righteous anger, for good reason. In the past, Republicans have usually been coy about their plans to cut Social Security, using euphemisms about "saving" the program. Not this year.
Republicans like Rick Scott and Ron Johnson openly released plans to put Social Security and Medicare on the Congressional chopping block. The Republican Study Committee, a group that counts about 75 percent of House Republicans as members, released a budget that would decimate middle class benefits and raise the retirement age to at least 70.
Democrats responded by making protecting Social Security a top campaign issue. President Joe Biden mentioned Scott and Johnson's plans in nearly all of his major campaign speeches, even handing out copies of them. In the final week before the election, 15 percent of Democratic TV ads mentioned Social Security. Democrats spent a total of $23 million on midterm election ads that focused on Social Security.
Voters listened! According to Navigator Research, 31 percent of "winning swing" voters said Social Security/Medicare was a top issue in determining their vote, a top three issue along with abortion and inflation. Navigator also found that 56 percent of Black voters over age 65 ranked Social Security/Medicare as their most important issue -- the number one issue by a 22-point margin! Among Hispanic voters, 55 percent cited "the future of Social Security and Medicare" as a reason to support Democrats -- tied with abortion as the top reason.
Not only did voters prioritize Social Security, they also voted accordingly. AARP found that, contrary to the stereotype of older Americans as conservative, voters over 65 in swing congressional districts backed Democrats by 3 points. Voters who ranked Social Security as one of their top two issues backed Democrats by a whopping 59 points!
The polling firm Data for Progress tested messaging across twelve different issue areas. The highest performing? Social Security. They found that voters were very concerned about Republican threats to Social Security, and responded enthusiastically to Democratic promises to defend Social Security's earned benefits.
Data for Progress also found that messages from Democrats about expanding Social Security polled extremely well, and helped them draw a clear contrast with Republicans. Many of the most successful Democratic candidates in the midterms, including Senator-elect John Fetterman, campaigned on expanding Social Security.
Thanks in large part to seniors who voted to protect Social Security, Democrats defied the predictions of the pundit class. They had one of the best ever midterm performances for a party that controls the White House. The lesson is that when Democrats run on protecting and expanding Social Security, they win.
Now, Democrats need to keep their promises to voters. Republicans have made it clear that they plan to use the debt ceiling as leverage to demand cuts to Social Security and Medicare. Democrats need to stand unified against even a single penny of benefit cuts.
In 2022, seniors and people with disabilities voted for Democrats to protect Social Security. In 2023, Democrats must stand with seniors and people with disabilities by protecting our earned benefits from Republican attacks.
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