Highway 270: Florida's Elderly Vote

This article is part of an ongoing biweekly series called “Highway 270,” which profiles heavily contested states in the 2012 election season. This week, I will continue examining the current political climate in Florida, which has 29 electoral votes.

With recent polls showing that President Obama and Governor Romney remain effectively tied amongst potential voters, both candidates will undoubtedly continue to doggedly pursue the Sunshine State. As mentioned in one of my previous articles, winning over Florida’s substantial elderly population (roughly 17 percent of the state, and about 30 percent of the state’s active voting population) will be key to earning Floridian electoral votes.

Romney and Obama alike are aggressively courting Floridian voters, and as of July 19, Obama appears to have a slight lead in the state over his Republican challenger, according to political survey aggregate Real Clear Politics. But to maintain or increase that minute margin, the president must woo the elderly voting bloc. These voters tend to support government aid programs that directly benefit older recipients (think Medicare and Social Security), and are, generally speaking, wary of attempts to change these policies. As such, Romney and Obama will each accuse the other of wanting to tamper with Medicare and Social Security, and each will assure the voters of his vested personal interest in protecting their favorite policies. But such attacks and promises may turn to white noise in the face of more polarizing issues.

Obama, for example, must be careful to downplay his administration’s flagship domestic policy measure, the Affordable Care Act. This health care policy is currently unpopular with the Floridian elderly, only 39 percent of whom are in support of the law. It is likely that Florida will be bombarded with ads from Romney’s campaign (and associated Super PACs) that attempt to portray so-called “Obamacare” as expensive and detrimental to senior citizens. Obama’s camp could attempt to sidestep the debate entirely; instead, they seem determined to change public perception of the Act by stressing its advantages to elderly voters, such as savings on prescription drug costs and increased eligibility for free preventative care.

Obama’s success in the Sunshine State (and, for that matter, throughout the country) may hinge on his ability to convince voters, young and old, that his Affordable Care Act will genuinely benefit them by lowering insurance costs and expanding eligibility for treatment, without bankrupting the government. Romney will be doing everything in his power to convince them otherwise. And because it will be some time before the economic ramifications of the Act are apparent, Obama will have to sell voters an untested, untestable idea.

But if anyone in Washington is capable of convincing people to believe that things will change for the better, it’s the man who already made that case—successfully—in 2008.