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AARP Poll: Older Voters Were the Deciders in Midterm Elections

Inflation, Social Security, Medicare, threats to democracy among top concerns at polls

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Once again it was voters 50 and older who turned out in larger numbers in the 2022 midterm elections than their younger counterparts. And in many razor-thin congressional elections across the country, it was these voters who decided outcome after outcome, according to a new AARP survey.

The results of AARP’s postelection poll found that 61 percent of ballots cast were by age 50-plus voters in the 63 most competitive races for the U.S. House of Representatives, compared with 39 percent of ballots cast by voters ages 18 to 49.

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The survey also showed that among older voters age 65 and up, there was a significant shift between how they said they planned to vote in an AARP poll this summer and how they actually cast their ballots. In July, 50 percent of 65-plus voters said they supported the Republican candidate, while 40 percent said they would be voting for a Democrat. In the postelection survey, that result flipped: 46 percent of 65-plus voters said they cast their ballots for a Republican while 49 percent went with a Democrat — a 13 percentage point switch toward the Democrats, the largest shift of any age group.

The AARP battleground poll was conducted by a bipartisan team of pollsters who surveyed 2,353 adults 18 and older, including 1,903 general election voters and 450 adults who said they did not vote. The survey was conducted via landline, cellphone and text messages between Nov. 9 and 10 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.3 percentage points for the adults who voted.

spinner image in the twenty twenty two midterm elections sixty one percent of voters were ages fifty plus while thirty nine percent of voters were eighteen through forty nine

John Anzalone of Impact Research, the Democratic pollster, said that when 61 percent of voters are from one voting bloc, “it shows you how powerful they are.” Bob Ward, of the Republican polling firm of Fabrizio Ward, agreed. “They are still the dominant universe of voters. You cannot ignore them.”

“Like a lot of things, voting is something that people get better at with more experience," says Nancy LeaMond, AARP executive vice president and chief advocacy and engagement officer. “Older Americans have been through a lot of election cycles. They know where to get information and, even with all the recent changes, they understand how to navigate the voting process. They’ve also seen over the years how the decisions that elected officials make affect their lives.”

spinner image a poll of what swayed the fifty plus vote thirty one percent said inflation then twenty seven percent said threats to democracy then twenty two said abortion

Inflation, democracy, abortion top of mind

The survey makes it clear that issues matter to older voters, with both pollsters suggesting that it was these top concerns that moved the 65-plus electorate toward the Democrats in this election.

Among all 50-plus voters surveyed, 31 percent cited inflation and rising prices, 27 percent said threats to democracy, and 22 percent said abortion was most important to them in deciding for whom to vote. But among the oldest voters (65-plus), threats to democracy topped their list of concerns at 30 percent, followed closely by inflation (29 percent) and then by Social Security and Medicare (24 percent).

“Social Security and Medicare are important to these voters because they are living it today, and it has huge importance,” Ward says. Anzalone says that the 65-plus voters were well aware of the law the president signed in August that will allow Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices, cap out-of-pocket Rx costs and limit insulin copays. And, he says, “the threats to democracy concern them. It is not the politics they grew up with. The extreme bothers them.” 

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Among voters ages 50 to 64, economics were clearly top of mind, with 34 percent saying inflation and rising prices were most important and 24 percent citing the economy and jobs.

spinner image a poll about what costs concerned fifty plus voters twenty eight percent said gas then twenty seven percent said food then nineteen percent said healthcare

Prices of gas, food and prescription drugs dominate

While 50-plus voters named gas prices (28 percent) and food (27 percent) prices as their top inflation concerns, 19 percent told pollsters that they worry about increases in the cost of health care and prescription drugs.

Food and gas prices are still being impacted by the post-pandemic atmosphere and continuing supply chain issues, Anzalone says. “We don’t know when they will go down, but they will. “But as they go down, there’s no doubt that prescription drugs and health care costs will probably go back up.” Ward said the fact that 50-plus Americans are the highest consumers of health care and prescription drugs likely figured into people’s answers to that question.

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“We know that older Americans are feeling squeezed financially by rising prices across the board and that the cost of health care and prescription drugs take a significant bite out of their annual income,” says AARP’s LeaMond. “That’s why we fought so hard to pass Medicare prescription drug price reform and to extend premium subsidies for Americans ages 50 to 64 who buy their own insurance” under the Affordable Care Act. “We will keep fighting to protect those gains and keep bringing down the cost of health care.”

50-plus voters favor compromise

By a 55 percent to 40 percent margin, 50-plus voters say they preferred a candidate who will work across the political aisle to solve the nation’s problems. That sentiment was even stronger among 65-plus voters, who say they favor compromise by a margin of 58 percent to 37 percent.

“This shows that people are getting a little weary of the hard-core partisanship,” says Ward, who pointed to a number of races in which voters did not vote by straight party line, including in New Hampshire, where Republican Gov. Chris Sununu was reelected but Democrat U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan was also returned to the Senate. The same was true in Nevada, where Republican Joe Lombardo ousted incumbent Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak but reelected Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto to the Senate. AARP’s poll shows that 32 percent of 50-plus voters split their tickets.

LeaMond said 50-plus voters likely favor bipartisanship “because older Americans remember times when our politics weren’t as sharply divided. They’ve seen policymakers come together to solve problems and get things done, and they want their elected officials to take that approach now.”

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