AARP Survey Gives a Snapshot of Midterm Election Results

Published in the Woonsocket Call on November 25, 2018

Before November 6, President Donald J. Trump and Congressional Republicans rolled the dice betting on what midterm election issues would propel them to a midterm election victory in retaining control of Congress. But the results were a mixed bag. While maintaining a majority in the Senate, the GOP lost control of the lower chamber.

Many were surprised that the Republican-controlled White House and Congress did not tout an improved national economy, but chose to focus their campaign attack ads on the intense Democratic attack on Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh’s character during his Supreme Court nomination hearing, a caravan of thousands of immigrants marching to the U.S.-Mexico border to escape poverty and violence in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador and law and order. Democrats put their chips on access to health care, Social Security, Medicare, and putting the brakes on skyrocketing prescription drug costs.

Although the GOP maintained control in the Senate (by a majority of 52 to 47), voters put the Democrats in control of the House, with the winning of 232 seats, reaching the magical number of 218 seats, required to take control of the chamber.

Health Care a Key Issue for Voters in Midterm Election

Just days ago, the Washington, DC-based AARP released findings of a national poll of general election voters, along with over samples in both 39 GOP-held seats that flipped to a Democrat and 37 GOP-held seats targeted as competitive by the Cook Political Report that held for the GOP.

AARP’s bipartisan post-election poll, fielded jointly by Fabrizio Ward and Benenson Strategy Group, found that, for 50-plus voters, Social Security, Medicare, and health care were their top midterm issues, pushing them to vote. The 2,800-voter survey (of General Election voters) also indicated age 50 and over voters across the board are also concerned about bipartisan bickering and gridlock inside the Washington, DC – Beltway, saying they favored a candidate who will work across the aisle.

“Older Americans were crystal clear that health care was the most important issue in this election,” said John Hishta, AARP Senior Vice President of Campaigns in a statement announcing the release of the 22-page report detailing survey findings on November 16. “They want Congress to come together to find commonsense solutions to lowering health care costs and they can start by preventing drug companies from price gouging older Americans and all taxpayers.,” says Hishta.

Adds Tony Fabrizio, of Fabrizio Ward, “Fifty plus voters chose Donald Trump by a wide margin two years ago. This year they were instrumental in Democrats retaking the House. They have become a formidable swing voting block for 2020.”

“This election made it clear that candidates and parties can’t build a winning-coalition without older Americans – or take their vote for granted.” said Amy Levin, Partner Benenson Strategy Group.

Taking a Closer Look…

The AARP survey revealed that while voter survey respondents under age 50 were more likely to identify as Independents, those age 50 and over were most likely to affiliate as either Democrat or Republican.

According to the AARP survey, for age 50-plus voters, concerns about Social Security (83 percent), Medicare (79 percent) and health care (79 percent) were their top midterm issues. However, younger voters find education (67 percent), health care (64 percent) and the economy (66 percent) to be most important to them.

The findings clearly show that the surveyed voters sent a message at the polls on November 6 that they want Democrats and Republicans to govern and not to not get mired down in political gridlock. In GOP-held districts that Democrats flipped, 63 percent of the age 50 and over voters wanted elected officials to work in a bipartisan manner. For districts the GOP held, 65 percent of voters felt the same way. While voters of both political parties expect more political gridlock, younger voters surveyed were even more pessimistic when compared to age 50 voters that this could happen.

AARP’s post-midterm election survey revealed that a pink wave was key in electing Democratic candidates, say the pollsters. Age 50 and over women were instrumental in the Democrat’s in gaining House seats — they favored a Democrat for House by 12 percent in the districts Democrats flipped.

The AARP survey found that the majority of survey respondents approved many of Trump’s policies, while almost 2/3 disapproved of him personally. The pollsters also noted that in districts held by the GOP, 55 percent of age 50-plus voters approved of President Donald Trump’s policies and 38 percent approve of him personally.

But the AARP survey revealed that voters nationally and in Dem Flips wanted a check on Trump, especially the independent voters. Obviously, GOP Hold
districts voters were more favorable to Senate and House candidates who supported Trump ‘s policy agenda. Age 50 and over voters wanted a check on Trump (by 6-points), this being smaller than the margin of voters under age 50.

Both Democratic flips and GOP Hold Districts were whiter and older than the nation as a whole, but Democratic Flips took places in districts that were more suburban, educated and affluent. But, key to the Democratic national successes in both the Dem Flip & GOP Hold segments was Independents age 50 and over voting Democrat by double digit margins across the board.

Meanwhile, while less Democratic friendly than voters under age 50, those age 50 and over narrowly favored the Democratic candidate both nationwide and in districts Democrats flipped from Republicans. And, their support for Republican candidates in the GOP Hold districts helped Republican losses from being even worse.

In October, AARP released, a 52-page report, “2018 Mid-Term Election Voter Issue Survey,” that found that the majority of those surveyed said that they would vote for candidates that supported lowering health care costs, strengthening and reforming Social Security and Medicare, putting the brakes to skyrocketing prescription drug costs. AARP’s post-election survey clearly mirrors these priorities.

With the 116th Congress convenes on January 3, 2019, Republican and Democratic lawmakers along with President Trump must work to put aside their political differences and govern by crafting bipartisan legislation that benefits the nation. As can be seen by AARP’s bipartisan post-election survey, voters demand this.

For more details on the survey’s findings, call Colby Nelson at (202) 434-2584 or email, cnelson@aarp.org.

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“First They Came for the Jews…”

Published in Woonsocket Call on April 29, 2018

On April 26, 2018, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on Senate Resolution No. 2696, urging law enforcement officials to recognize white nationalists and neo-Nazi groups as terrorist organizations. The Senate Resolution would enable law enforcement to pursue such groups’ activities and whereabouts with the resources and attention devoted to domestic terrorist groups. It would be tragic for the Senate panel to not pass this resolution introduced by Senators Goldin, Miller, Nesselbush, Quezada, and Crowley. Representative J. Aaron Regunberg introduced the House companion measure (H.B. 8131).

In response to last year’s racially-charged violence in Charlottesville, state legislatures across the nation have considered similar legislation. Roger Williams, founder of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, was a staunch advocate for religious freedom and tolerance. With that commitment, it is important for Rhode Island lawmakers to not send Senate Resolution No. 2696 to legislative purgatory but to pass it to strongly denounce the white nationalist and neo-Nazi ideologies of racial, social and religious intolerance that terrorize the state’s racial, ethnic and religious minority communities.

Anti-Semitic Incidents Increasing in Rhode Island

Last month, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) reported that the increase in anti-Semitic incidents in the Ocean State have nearly doubled from 2016 to 2017, with the number of reports jumping from 7 to 13. Let’s put a face on these incidents. According to the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island, it was reported by media that just one day after an anti-Semitic act of vandalism in the City of Pawtucket, on May 23, 2016, Stebbins Stadium in Cranston was spray painted with graffiti, including swastika symbols as well as hate messages directed to Muslim and African American communities. Among the incidents reported in 2017 by the media: a swastika burned into a sign located on a bike path in Barrington, anti- Semitic graffiti spray painted on Warwick Vets High School and a swastika made from human waste found in RISD dorm bathroom.

But, white nationalists and neo-Nazi hate ideology is also increasing throughout the nation. The increase is reflected nationally with the ADL reporting a nearly 60 percent increase.

The jarring historical imagery of the torchlight procession of supporters of Adolf Hitler moving through the Wilhelmstrasse in Berlin on the evening of January 30, 1933 came to life to Rhode Islanders and to millions of Americans last year when hundreds of neo-Nazis, white nationalists, KKK, militia members and other right-wing groups gathered for a “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va. Carrying tiki torches, flags with swastikas and confederate flags, they came to the City’s Emancipation Park, chanting “Jews will not replace us”, “Blood and Soil” (a Nazi rallying cry), “White Lives Matter,” along with homophobic, racists and misogynistic slurs.

It’s Time for Rhode Island to Speak Out

While both GOP and Democrat Congressional lawmakers lambasted President Donald J. Trump’s choice of words for laying the blame of violence at the Charlottesville rally at the feet of both the far-right demonstrators and counter protestors, there were some who remained silent or defended his comments, saying his words were adequate.

With the increased public visibility of the neo-Nazis, white supremacist and other hate groups, and with President Trump failing to use his position and moral authority to strongly condemn the ideology of hate groups, the Rhode Island General Assembly is now positioned to take on this responsibility.

In response to the violent weekend in Charlottesville, Va., the Illinois Senate adopted a similar resolution, sponsored by Sen. Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, urging law officials to recognize white nationalists and neo-Nazi groups as terrorist organizations. As a state founded on the principle of religious freedom, Rhode Island can follow.

It is an appropriate time to remember the speech given by Martin Niemoller, a German Lutheran minister who opposed the Nazis and was sent to several concentration camps. He survived the war and explained:

“First, they came for the Jews. I was silent. I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the Communists. I was silent. I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists. I was silent. I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for me. There was no one left to speak for me.”

For Rhode Island lawmakers, it is time for you to speak out.

How the Election Impacts Social Security

Published in Woonsocket Call on July 24, 2016

On the final night of the Republican National Convention (RNC) an average of 32 million Americans tuned in to watch Donald J. Trump, a New York Real Estate Developer, author, television personality and now politician, formally accepted the GOP nomination for President of the United States.

After he delivered his July 21 speech, reporters, political commentators, and even postings trending on twitter called Trump’s hour and 15 minute speech (4,400 words) “dark” because of its stark tone and content. This GOP presidential candidate’s speech was even referred to as being the longest acceptance speech in history since 1972.

Before more than 2,400 delegates Trump, 70, pledged to be the nation’s law and order president who would crack down on crime and violence. America first would be Trump’s mantra during the negotiation of international trade deals and the existing NAFTA trade accord would be renegotiated.

Trump also called for defending the nation’s borders against illegal immigrants and giving parents more choice in choosing schools for their children. And to the forgotten men and woman across the country who were laid-off because of President Obama’s mishandling of the economy Trump promised to be their voice. Syrian refugees would be vetted and only those individuals who “will support our values and love our people” will be admitted, he said.

Trump Ignores Social Security in Speech

Aging advocates say that Trump’s acceptance speech was short on details when it can to domestic policy, specifically Social Security and Medicare. But, you won’t need tea leaves to read how a future Trump Administration will change the way the nation supports its retirees. .

According to Max Richtman, President and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM), the choice of Governor Mike Pence as Trump’s running mate should send “a very clear message to America’s seniors that their priorities will hold little weight in a Trump administration.” While Trump has promised on the campaign trail that he won’t cut Social Security and Medicare.

During his 12 years serving as a U.S. Congressman, Pence consistently voted in favor of GOP legislative efforts to cut benefits in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, says Richtman, charging that Trump’s vice presidential running mate is one of a few Congressional lawmakers that has a strong “anti-seniors voting record.”

Richtman says that “Mike Pence was one of Congress’ biggest proponents of privatization. He supports cutting Social Security benefits by raising the retirement age, reducing the COLA, means-testing and turning Medicare into “CouponCare.” As he told CNN, ‘I’m an all of the above guy. I think we need to look at everything that’s on the menu,’ and the record shows he has done just that by supporting every form of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefit cut proposed in the past decade.”

While Trump has promised not to cut Social Security benefits on his year-long campaign trail, he continues to surround himself with advisors who are “polar opposite” of his positions says Richtman. “They say actions speak louder than words — Donald Trump’s choice of Mike Pence as his Vice-Presidential running mate will speak volumes to American seniors,” he adds.

Political Experts Weigh in

Darrell M. West, Ph.D., Vice President and Director of Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution, says that “Trump is on record as saying he does not want to cut Social Security so that is considerably different from most Republican leaders, who support benefit reductions as a way to balance its books. This probably is the reason the [GOP] platform is vague on Social Security. The party could not reconcile Trump’s view on not cutting benefits with the party’s general view that cuts are needed. That left them with a reference to market solutions without explaining what that meant.”

“Party leaders have said they want to raise the retirement age for people under age 50. That issue certainly would be on the issue in a Trump presidency although it is not clear how he views that issue. But there would be significant support in a GOP-run Congress for doing that and cutting the benefits of future retirees,” adds West.

West believes that “Democrats have a very good chance of recapturing control of the Senate. If that happens, that will allow them to block benefit reductions or raising the retirement age, he says.

Wendy Schiller, professor and chair, Department of Political Science at Brown University, warns that talking about changing Social Security can be risky and this “involves a depth of knowledge about entitlement financing that eludes most political candidates especially those without any political experience.”

The Brown professor of politics does not see Trump tackling this issue in any meaningful way in the campaign and she does not believe it will be a priority for him or the GOP if he wins. “Recall George W. Bush tried to reform Social Security immediately after he won reelection in 2004 – by late January 2005 it was dead on arrival in Congress,” she says.

“Overall I am not sure the GOP leadership in the Congress has fully processed what a Trump presidency would look like in terms of policy or what his priorities might be. It is unclear to me that they will align closely and getting anything through Congress these days is nearly impossible, no matter who sits in the Oval Office,” she adds.

Stark Differences in Platforms to Fix Social Security

On Friday, the released Democratic Platform released reveal a stark difference as how to the Democratic and Republican parties will fix the ailing Social Security program. The GOP platform. Although current retirees and those close to retirement will receive their benefits, changes are looming with a Trump administration and a Republican-controlled Congress. For younger generations all benefit cut options to be put on the table, opposing the lifting of the payroll tax cap and sees privatization of Social Security as a way for older American’s to create wealth for use in retirement. On the other hand, the Democratic Party platform calls for a strengthening and expansion of the existing Social Security program. The Democrats oppose any attempts to “cut, privatize or weaken” Social Security, and calls for lifting the payroll tax and exploring a new COLA formula.

NCPSSM’s Richtman notes “ It’s also very telling that while the GOP buried their cuts and privatization plans for Social Security under the Platform’s Government Reform heading, the Democrats addressed Social Security, as they should, as part of their plan to restore economic security for average Americans. That’s been Social Security’s fundamental role for more than 80 years — providing an economic lifeline impacting the lives of virtually every American family.”

As AARP’s John Hishta noted in his July 22 blog, even though the “political spotlight was not on Social Security” at the RNC in Cleveland, delegates, rank-and-file politicians and even political operatives that he talked with clearly understand the programs importance to retirees and younger generations.

“If political leaders fail to act, future retirees could lose up to $10,000 a year. All beneficiaries could face a nearly 25 percent cut in their benefit,” warns Hishta. .

Hishta tells his blog readers that “AARP’s Take a Stand campaign left the RNC with renewed determination to make updating Social Security a bigger part of the presidential debate.” He pledges to continue pushing for strengthening and expanding the nation’s Social Security program at next week’s Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia and until the November presidential elections.

To keep informed about Social Security discussion during this presidential campaign go to http://takeastand.aarp.org/,