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Most 50-Plus Women Voters Still Undecided in Midterm Elections

Inflation and Social Security concern many in new AARP poll

spinner image She's the Difference
Getty Images/AARP

Candidates in November’s midterm elections still have time to persuade America’s 50-plus women to vote for them. A new AARP “She’s the Difference” poll finds that 51 percent of likely women voters age 50 and older have not made up their minds for whom they will cast their ballots in November.

Historically, older adults vote in greater numbers than any other age group. In the 2018 midterm elections, 56 percent of voters ages 45 to 59 and 66 percent of voters 60 and older cast ballots. That compares to a 33 percent turnout among those ages 18 to 29. Data from many states also shows that women are out-registering men for the 2022 midterms.

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The poll of likely voters also found that the three top concerns of this segment of the electorate are: voting rights (48 percent); threats to democracy (48 percent); and inflation and rising prices (44 percent). The survey also reveals that 66 percent of these respondents have had to cut back on nonessential purchases and 41 percent have also had to cut back on essentials because of the higher cost of living.

When it comes to what these women voters say would benefit them most, 75 percent say they are looking for protection from Social Security cuts, while 66 percent say lower food prices and 58 percent say lower gas prices would help them the most.

“Women age 50 and older represent 1 in 3 likely voters, and more than half say they haven’t made up their minds yet on how they will vote,” says Nancy LeaMond, AARP executive vice president and chief advocacy and engagement officer. “That gives candidates a big opportunity to listen to these important voters and address their concerns about a whole host of issues.”

The AARP-commissioned survey questioned 800 women and 400 men age 50 and older between Sept. 6 and 13 as part of its “She’s the Difference” project to explore the concerns and priorities of women 50-plus. The poll, conducted via phone calls and texting by a team of Republican and Democratic pollsters, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percent for the women voters.

According to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, in recent years an estimated 10 million more women than men have been registered to vote. Turnout has been higher among women than men in every presidential election since 1960, the center also found.

spinner image 51 percent of women 50-plus haven't decided who they will vote for in the midterm elections

The deciders are undecided

Experts on both sides of the aisle agree that the 2022 elections are likely to be more about partisanship than the issues. So the fact that 51 percent of women voters in the survey had not already made up their minds with just about two months to go before Election Day surprised the pollsters who conducted the “She’s the Difference” survey.

Women may be undecided “because candidates aren’t talking about the issues that matter to them,” says Celinda Lake, a veteran Democratic pollster who is part of the AARP polling team. “Maybe because they’re very uncertain about the direction of the economy and our government and democracy.”

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Kristen Soltis Anderson, a Republican pollster on the AARP team, said she thinks people are deciding close to the election because they are “exhausted by politics. There’s this constant drumbeat of politics and it’s almost as though voters are trying to tune out the noise until it’s actually time for them to make a decision.”

spinner image Top Issues for Women 50-Plus: Threats to Democracy - 48 percent, Voting rights - 48 percent, Inflation, rising prices - 44 percent

Social Security top of mind

While voting rights, threats to democracy and inflation topped the list of issue concerns overall for 50-plus women, Soltis Anderson says she was struck by the fact that those responses varied widely by party affiliation. Democratic women’s top concerns center on threats to democracy (62 percent) and voting rights (65 percent), while Republican women rank the cost of living (61 percent) and crime (52 percent) highest on their list of concerns. Women who identify as independents were more split, with health care and prescription drugs (34 percent), abortion (32 percent) and division in the country (32 percent) of most concern.

spinner image 50-Plus Women Want Help with: Protecting social security from cuts: 75 percent, Lowering the cost of food: 66 percent, Lowering the cost of gas: 58 percent

Lake and Soltis Anderson agree that when it comes to Social Security there is no partisan difference and that if candidates want to reach undecided women voters from both parties and independents, promising to protect Social Security from cuts would be a good start.

“Candidates need to be talking to women over 50 about Social Security — which they aren’t,” Lake says. Both pollsters say that inflation has elevated the fear that if this program faced cuts, older women wouldn’t have that stable source of income to help them make ends meet.

“Women age 50-plus are very clear that they consider Social Security to be the bedrock of their financial security,” says AARP’s LeaMond. “Protecting the program from cuts tops the list of policies they say would help them personally. These women are counting on Social Security being there for them when they retire.”

Inflation has taken its toll

Another area where women agree regardless of party is that they have had to adjust their lives because of inflation. The August U.S. inflation rate, released in September, was 8.3 percent.

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Among those polled, 66 percent say they have had to cut nonessential purchases and 41 percent cut back on spending for essentials. In addition, 40 percent say they have had to take money out of savings to deal with the current economic situation.

“It is unsurprising to see people say they have had to cut back on nonessential purchases,” Soltis Anderson says. “It is eye popping to see that 41 percent say they have cut back on essentials.” It’s one thing, she says, to not buy airline tickets or a new car, “but the fact that having to go to the grocery store and make harder choices about what you’re going to make for dinner or when you go to fill up your car and trying to find ways that you can avoid making as many trips in a week — that sticks with you.”

spinner image Why 50-plus Women Are Motivated to Vote: Dislike a candidate: 31 percent, Particular issue: 17 percent, Important election: 17 percent

Candidate dislike fueling votes

The AARP survey shows that as with past elections, women age 50 and older are dedicated to voting, with 82 percent saying they are highly motivated, a finding that largely cuts across party lines. And these likely women voters also agree that the main reason they intend to vote in November is their dislike of a candidate. The survey found that 27 percent of Democratic and independent women and 37 percent of Republican women listed a dislike of a candidate as their top motivation for voting. Following that, 17 percent of all 50-plus women say caring about a particular issue and this being an important election were leading them to vote.

“People are pretty unhappy about the way things are going,” Lake says. “And they think the candidates often are talking more about what’s wrong with things rather than solutions.”

Soltis Anderson adds that voter frustration is behind people’s reasons for voting.

“There’s a sense that if the other party wins, it’s not just bad, but that it’s a catastrophe for America,” Soltis Anderson says. “And so more and more people feel like the stakes are very high, so they absolutely need to participate.”

LeaMond says what 50-plus women are focusing on for these midterm elections reflects the turbulence of the times. “It really runs the gamut from things that affect their day-to-day lives to the kind of country and world they want to leave to their children and grandchildren.”

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