Candidates Mum on Social Security

Published in Pawtucket Times on February 8, 2016

Just a week before the New Hampshire primary, scheduled for Tuesday, February 9, AARP releases a new survey, of likely primary voters, that finds Social Security is “one issue that transcends the partisan divide and unites people of all ages.” Both surveyed Democrats and Republicans alike agreed that all presidential candidates should give details as to how they will strengthen or expand Social Security.

In recent presidential debates, moderators focus on the economy, abortion, gun control, immigration and defense, hardly touching on aging issues. The January 29 AARP survey found that voters want more specifics about Social Security. More than nine in 10 New Hampshire primary voters across party lines and age groups say it is important for presidential candidates to lay out their specific plans to make Social Security financially sound for future generations.

Presidential Candidates Dodging Social Security Issue

“New Hampshire primary voters are sending a clear message to the presidential candidates that having a plan to keep Social Security strong is a test of leadership,” said AARP New Hampshire State Director Todd Fahey. “Yet, some presidential candidates are dodging the issue. Our survey confirms New Hampshire primary voters agree if a candidate thinks they’re ready to be president, they should at least be able to tell voters where they stand on Social Security’s future.”

According to AARP, the recent survey of 1,004 likely New Hampshire primary voters, was conducted by telephone from January 12 through January 16, 2016. By design, half of the respondents consist of likely Democratic primary voters (501) and half consist of likely Republican primary voters (503).

The AARP survey is part of nonprofit’s 2016 presidential election issue campaign, “Take A Stand.” In November, the nonprofit launched its its 2016 election accountability campaign initiative which demands on behalf of America’s voters that presidential candidates detail their specific positions on making Social Security financially sound.
The survey findings indicate that nine in 10 New Hampshire primary voters (93 percent Democrat and 92 percent Republican) across party lines and age groups say its important for presidential candidates to lay out a detailed plan to make Social Security financially sound for future generations. Regardless of age, nearly half or more of likely primary voters in each party think this is “very important.”

Also, more than three in four New Hampshire primary voters, across party lines and across age groups, agree that having a plan for Social Security is a basic threshold for presidential leadership. This includes 89 percent of likely Democratic primary voters and 80 percent of likely Republican primary voters.

Moreover, nearly nine in ten or more voters across both parties and age groups believe it is important that the next president and congress take action to make Social Security financially sound. This includes 96 percent of Democratic primary voters as well as 92 percent of Republican primary voters.

“If our leaders don’t act, future generations could see their Social Security benefits cut by 25 percent. That’s a $4,000 to $10,000 per year benefit cut! This survey confirms how critical it is for the next president to have a plan to update Social Security and a commitment to act on that plan,” said Fahey.

On the question of which presidential candidate they expect to vote for on February 9, the AARP survey found that among likely Republican primary voters, Donald Trump is the leading choice for president (preferred by 32 percent) with Marco Rubio preferred by 14 percent and John Kasich preferred by 13 percent However, more than one in four (26 percent) are less certain who will get their vote.

Among likely Democratic primary voters, Bernie Sanders is the leading choice for president (preferred by 59 percent), with Hillary Clinton coming in second (preferred by 33 percent. But one in five (21 percent are less certain who will get their vote.

“AARP said early on in the election cycle that Social Security is too critical a matter – and one affecting far too many people – to allow it to be skimmed over, breezed by, or paid only lip service,” said AARP Rhode Island State Director Kathleen Connell. “The presidential candidates need to take a stand on how they would update Social Security to keep it financially strong and adequate for future generations,” she says.

“Unfortunately, Social Security does not seem to be top-of-mind for candidates nor a discussion that finds its way into the debates,” says Connell, observing that some candidates, including some frontrunners, remain silent on the Social Security issue.
(You can get the very latest news and read what candidates with plans did say at http://www.2016takeastand.org.)

Connell says, “The challenge itself – keeping Social Security strong for the future – gets talked about a lot. You can be sure that when a candidate or elected federal official visits a senior center there will be a pledge (one I happen to believe has been sincere in Rhode Island) to protect Social Security.”

“You don’t hear so much about how. The devil is in the details. And, as the saying goes, ‘It’s complicated,’” adds Connell.

Older Voters Have Political Clout

From inside the Beltway, Darrell M. West, Ph.D., Vice President and Director of Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution, considers voters age 50 and over are one of the most important voting blocs in the nation. “It is a numerous group and these people vote in higher percentages than those who are younger. They often are decisive in elections and candidates have to take their views seriously,” says West.

Connell agrees about the clout of older voters. “The average age for a Rhode Island voter in the 2012 presidential election was 48.6, and that was up from 48.5 in 2010. We know that older Rhode Islanders vote in high percentages and we know that the 50+ population is grown as people live longer. But I have to say that when it comes to Social Security, voters 50 and older are united on the issue; they expect some form of accountability from the candidates on how they would lead on this issue, she says.

Anyone who thinks they’re ready to be President of the United States should be able to tell voters how they’ll keep Social Security strong,” adds Connell. “If our leaders don’t act, future retirees could lose up to $10,000 a year. Every year our leaders wait and do nothing, finding a solution grows more difficult,” she says.

Aging issues impact everyone, says Connell. “When I am asked about ‘aging issues it seems to me to indicate how people often default to a narrow view of ageing. Access to and the cost of healthcare is an issue for all ages. Taxation is an issue for all ages. Affordable housing is an issue for all ages. Protecting pensions is an issue for all ages, even for voters working in their 30s or 40s – as is the issue of Social Security. Our aging population presents a challenge to all Americans and I think you will see 50+ voters becoming increasingly liked-minded making more and more of an effort to be heard.”

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