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America's Angry Older Voters

They're leading the bad-mood brigade that would throw the bums out

MacManus says sweeping out incumbents in large numbers happens when there are willing candidates to run against them, but newcomers are having a hard time raising money now to mount those challenges.

Brown says it's harder to predict who will win or lose from the voter anger this time because neither party has all the levels of power — and therefore all the responsibility. Democrats control the White House and Senate, and Republicans control the House.

If a wave election comes — bringing sweeping change — history shows it's more likely to help just one party, Brown says.

"Politics is zero-sum game," Brown says. "At some point, [voters] are going to get madder at one side or another."

Both parties will try to capitalize on the strong sentiments, MacManus says. Republicans will accuse the Democrats of irresponsible overspending. Democrats will hit back saying Republicans want to hurt older people with cuts to Medicare and Social Security.

A Pew Research Center poll released Thursday showed that older voters are leaning more toward Democrats than they were two years ago. When asked whether they would support a generic Republican or Democratic congressional candidate, 49 percent of older people said Democratic, and 45 percent said Republican. Just before the 2010 election, older people skewed heavily Republican — 50 percent for a GOP candidate, and 38 percent for a Democrat. They favor Obama 42 percent over a Republican opponent, 41 percent. That's a switch from 2008, when they favored Republican John McCain over Obama by eight percentage points in exit polls.

Older people "look to be a little more up for grabs, at least in the early going," says Carroll Doherty, associate director of Pew.

The Tea Party movement and Republicans got much of the blame for the ugly debt ceiling debate, Sabato says. But there's far too much time until the November 2012 elections to know who will pay dearest for the voter anger.

"What people feel now is much less important than what they feel in the fall of 2012," Sabato says.

Tamara Lytle is a veteran Washington political correspondent.

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