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AARP Poll: It’s Inflation, Prescription Drugs for 50-Plus Voters

Undecided independents and moderates could determine outcome of congressional midterms

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Candidates seeking a seat in Congress this November had better show older Americans they have solutions to high inflation and runaway prescription drug prices, and will protect Social Security and Medicare, according to a new AARP poll of likely voters 50-plus in the 56 most competitive races in the nation.

The results of the survey reveal a highly motivated electorate. Historically, older voters have the highest turnout numbers of any age group, especially in midterm elections.

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“Americans age 50-plus are our nation’s most powerful voters — and they will be the deciders in the 2022 elections,” says Nancy LeaMond, AARP executive vice president and chief advocacy and engagement officer. “Voters 50-plus are focused on inflation, the economy and pocketbook issues. Candidates should pay close attention to their concerns.”

The AARP battleground poll was conducted by a bipartisan team of pollsters who surveyed 2,352 likely voters in 56 of the most competitive U.S. House of Representatives districts in 26 states between July 5 and 12. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.8 percentage points.

Undecided voters will be pivotal

Among the 50-plus voters polled, 11 percent say they have yet to make up their mind whom they will vote for, and those undecided voters overwhelmingly identify themselves as independents (75 percent) and moderates (52 percent).

The undecided vote in these midterm elections will be “huge,” says John Anzalone of Impact Research, the Democratic pollster who conducted the AARP poll along with the Republican polling firm of Fabrizio Ward. “In what’s going to be dozens and dozens of really close races across the country, targeting these 50-plus voters is going to be key.” Democrats hold a slim majority in the House, with Republicans needing a net gain of five seats to swing control of the chamber.

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To reach these undecided voters, the pollsters say, candidates have to speak to the issues that they care about. “You have to meet the voters where they are, and these undecided voters are especially high on the economic issues,” says Bob Ward, the GOP pollster. “They’re the least partisan voters. They’re mostly moderates; they’re mostly independents. If you’re not talking about inflation and the economic woes they are facing, you’re not speaking what they want to hear.”

What issues do undecided 50+ voters care about most?
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50-plus issues could sway races

Anzalone adds that candidates had better pay attention to issues that aren’t being talked about much right now, including protecting Social Security and finding ways to provide home health care for seniors. And the 50-plus cohort will also be closely watching whether candidates support allowing Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices.

Among all the 50-plus likely voters polled, overwhelming majorities said a candidate’s views on Social Security (82 percent), Medicare (75 percent) and the cost of prescription drugs (69 percent) will be important when they decide who will get their vote.

“If you’re an incumbent member of Congress or Senate and you have in any way voted against or blocked the negotiation of prescription drugs, senior voters are going to know about it,” Anzalone says. “And it could cost them the election.”

Ward agrees and said Republican candidates would do well to realize that lowering the cost of prescription drugs is “one of the most bipartisan issues that we poll. In terms of allowing Medicare to negotiate for drug prices, 85 percent of Republicans will be more likely to vote for candidates who allow that.” Among all respondents in the poll, 89 percent said they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who supported prescription drug negotiations.

How is inflation hitting undecided voters age 50+ the hardest?
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Majorities see recession looming

A majority of likely voters in all age groups believe the country either is in a recession (43 percent) or will be in one in the next 12 months (33 percent). The data is virtually the same for voters 50-plus. All likely voters also say that they are most concerned about rising prices of gasoline (40 percent), food (31 percent) and housing (15 percent).

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Taken together, the issues that polled the highest, Ward notes, are all related to the economy. When asked which issues are most important to them, 16 percent of 50-plus voters said inflation and rising prices, 15 percent said the economy and 5 percent said taxes, government spending and debt. “That’s what’s driving the political environment,” Ward said.

The survey also showed that the motivation to vote is high, especially for a midterm election. Among all likely voters polled, 78 percent said they are extremely motivated to vote in November, with 80 percent of 50-plus voters saying they too are extremely motivated. In the 2018 midterm elections, overall turnout was 53 percent, with 60 percent of voters ages 45–64 casting their ballots and 66 percent of voters 65-plus voting.

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The two groups that are less enthusiastic about voting this fall are Blacks (67 percent) and Asian American and Pacific Islanders (68 percent).

Anzalone said while it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact reasons for the motivation gap, “we have seen that with African Americans and other people of color, inflation hits them the hardest in terms of it impacting them financially.”

Ward said it’s clear that across the board, candidates should remember the strategic campaign phrase coined in 1992 by President Bill Clinton’s adviser James Carville: “It’s the economy, stupid.”

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