The Hidden War in Campaign 2012

Much attention recently has been focused on the alleged "Republican War on Women," which has produced a gender gap that has in some polls recently exceeded 20%.

But there is another war that is soon likely to be declared -- a war on senior citizens -- that probably will be just as important in determining the outcome of this year's presidential election.

First, a little history.

In both 2008 and 2004, voters over the age of 65 comprised 16% of the electorate.

In 2008,  Republican John McCain won that group by a 53% to 45% margin over the ultimate winner, Barack Obama.

Similarly, in 2004, Republican George W. Bush won a 52% to 47% victory over his Democratic challenger, John Kerry, among voters over the age of 65.

The GOP's share of the senior vote increased overall  by a 3 point margin between 2004 and 2008 – a swing that is all the more significant in light of the fact that while George W. Bush won a narrow victory overall in 2004,  John McCain lost by close to 6 points to President Obama nationally in.

The real shift though among seniors came in the 2010 midterm Congressional elections.

First, the senior vote increased from 16% of the electorate in 2008 to 21%. And indeed, a look at the Exit Poll data shows clearly and unambiguously that Republican House candidates received  a decisive share of the senior vote – with voters over the age of 65 voting Republican by an extraordinary 21 point margin (59%-38%).

Put another way, the massive swing among seniors from just two years earlier --  no doubt motivated in large measure by concerns about the president's healthcare bill --  produced a swing to the Republicans that ultimately delivered the House for the GOP. This has profound implications for campaign 2012.

President Obama cannot hope to be reelected unless he can narrow the widening gap that has been emerging among senior citizens.

Indeed the ultimate success of the Democrats in last summer’s special election for New York’s 26th Congressional District seat – after Democrat Kathy Hochul made opposition to the Ryan Budget Plan the centerpiece of her campaign platform and strategy – suggests that campaign was only a dry run for 2012.

Rest assured, the Democrats are almost certainly going to avoid any constructive discussion of entitlement reform before the election, as they  continue to rigorously campaign against any plan to reform entitlements, Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security during the election campaign.

The Democrats understand all too well that unless they can narrow this gap with seniors, it will be difficult, if not impossible, for the president to be reelected.

Thus we can expect to see the Democrats’ go-to strategy strategy of demonizing Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan and the entire Republican Party morph into rallying battle cries about the Republican " War On Our Elderly" sometime very soon.

But what is certain is that the War FOR the Elderly (vote) will be the key to deciding who will win campaign 2012.

Douglas E. Schoen is a political strategist, Fox News contributor, and author of several books including the forthcoming "Hopelessly Divided: The New Crisis in American Politics and What It Means for 2012 and Beyond" (Rowman and Littlefield). Follow Doug on Twitter @DouglasESchoen.



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