Echo Chamber – The Silent Debate September 9, 2007Posted by fitsnews in 2008 Presidential Primaries, SC Politics.
PRESIDENTIAL HOPEFULS MISSING HUGE WINDOW BY IGNORING SENIOR ISSUES
FITSNews – September 9, 2007 – Whether you’re a Democrat or Republican, winning the South Carolina presidential primary could come down to how well the candidates fare with a seldom-discussed but remarkably potent demographic – South Carolina’s senior citizens. Representing roughly one out of every three votes cast in recent Democratic and Republican primaries, South Carolinians aged 65 and older may not be filling gymnasiums or lining the streets at political rallies, but their strength at the ballot box is legendary.
In the 2000 Republican presidential primary in South Carolina, 16.5% of all registered voters aged 65 or over cast ballots – by far the highest turnout rate of any age demographic and a whopping 31.4% of all ballots cast, according to figures furnished by the S.C. Election Commission. In the 2004 Democratic presidential primary, 12.6% of registered voters aged 65 or over cast ballots – also the highest turnout rate of any age demographic and 27.7% of all ballots cast.
Add “young seniors” aged 55 years and older to the mix, and many believe that this combined demographic accounts for half of all the primary ballots cast.
“That specific breakdown (voters 55 and over) isn’t available, but they certainly represent a sizable percentage of the people who go out and cast ballots,” says Marci Andino, Director of the State Election Commission. “They also represent a sizeable percentage of our poll workers.”
By comparison, the vast majority of younger voters stayed at home in the two recently contested primary elections in South Carolina.
Despite having nearly three times as many registered voters, only 5.2% of South Carolina Republicans aged 22-44 turned out to vote in the 2000 Bush-McCain primary. Similarly in 2004, only 5.3% of South Carolina Democrats aged 22-44 turned out to vote for their presidential nominee, despite the fact that registered voters in this demographic more than doubled the number of registered seniors.
The numbers get worse for registered South Carolina voters aged 18-21, as only 3.6% of them turned out the last time the Republican nomination was up for grabs compared to 4.8% of Democrats four years later.
You’d think with senior citizens turning out in such droves on primary day that Presidential candidates on both sides of the aisle would be tripping all over themselves to address the issues that matter to them, especially with both nominations up for grabs this year for the first time in half a century and South Carolina’s pivotal “First In the South” primaries just five months away.
But that’s not what’s happening.
Candidates can’t seem to say enough about the divisive War in Iraq or promote their liberal or conservative credibility on hot button issues like immigration reform, abortion and gay marriage, but when was the last time you heard a presidential contender from either party talk about the availability and affordability of senior housing? Or for that matter Alzheimer’s care, America’s shortage of geriatric professionals or the dangers of fraud and abuse targeted at seniors?
What about the millions of seniors about to leave our nation’s workforce as the Baby Boomers approach retirement? Not to mention the dramatic impact this unprecedented economic migration will have on the solvency of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid?
Senior issues simply aren’t in the political and mainstream media bloodstream as we approach the 2008 election – or at least not at a level commensurate with the clout seniors enjoy at the polls.
Despite the lack of a presidential primary, the power of the senior vote in South Carolina was demonstrated again in 2006 as Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer prevailed in his reelection bid despite being left for dead against Mike Campbell in a hotly-contested GOP primary and then again against top-tier Democratic challenger Robert Barber in the general election.
Most political observers agree that it was Bauer’s expansive network of senior supporters – the result of his inheriting the State Office on Aging from Gov. Mark Sanford in 2004 – that provided him with the winning margin in both races.
Incidentally, FITSNews has learned that Bauer is preparing to give a speech on Tuesday to the Silver-Haired Legislature, a group of seniors from across South Carolina who gather at the State House in Columbia each year to hold a mock legislative session focused on senior issues.
Several sources working on 2008 campaigns tell us that Bauer’s speech to the Silver-Haired Legislature on Tuesday will include a number of “direct shots” at the presidential candidates for their failure to adequately address the concerns of this pivotal voting bloc.
“He is calling candidates out by name,” one GOP presidential campaign aide told FITSNews.
Another presidential campaign aide said that an advance copy of sections of Bauer’s speech had already been provided to their campaign as a “heads up.”
Bauer’s Office on Aging Director Curtis Loftis confirmed that the Lt. Governor was indeed speaking on Tuesday, but refused to provide FITSNews with a copy of Bauer’s remarks or shed any light on rumors that his boss was launching a full-frontal assault on the 2008 slate of candidates. Loftis also declined to reveal whether or not portions of Bauer’s remarks had been provided in advance to any of the 2008 campaigns currently active in South Carolina.
“Any comments Andre makes will be substantive and focused on policies that directly impact our state’s seniors,” Loftis told FITSNews.
Whatever Bauer says – and whatever attention it garners – the political expediency of courting the senior vote only increases in importance with each passing election. Political scientists predict senior turnout percentages from 2000 and 2004 will be eclipsed in the 2008 and 2012 election cycles as up to 80 million Baby Boomers nationally begin retiring, many of them to places like South Carolina.
So while the “senior debate” may be under the radar for now, savvy presidential candidates visiting the Palmetto State would be wise to start paying a little more homage to a demographic that could very well determine their fate.