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Health care gives Democrats a modest edge with senior voters

Adapted from a Kaiser Family Foundation column based on a poll conducted Sept. 19–Oct. 2 of 313 registered voters ages 65 and older with a margin of error of ±7 percentage points; Chart: Harry Stevens/Axios

The Democrats' emphasis on health care may give them a modest, but not a decisive, advantage with seniors in Tuesday's elections.

Why it matters: Older voters are the one group that always turns out to vote in midterm elections. They vote at higher rates than younger adults in all elections, but especially in midterms. In 2014, for example, turnout was 55% among the 60-plus population compared to about 16% among 18-29 year-olds.

  • They trust Democrats more on health care, and somewhat more seniors are Democrats than Republicans (41% vs. 31% in our latest poll).

As the chart shows, seniors are more likely to trust Democrats than Republicans on a range of health care issues. That helps give them a slight edge on health care with these voters, but as we learned in the 2010 and 2014 midterms — when Republicans won the House and then the Senate — health care alone doesn't necessarily decide the elections.

  • Senior voters are more evenly split on whether they trust Democrats or Republicans more on Medicare (45% vs. 41%). But Medicare, the health issue seniors care about most, has not been in play in these midterms, except for scattered Republican criticisms that Democrats' "Medicare for All" plans will harm the Medicare program and seniors.
  • Historically, seniors have balked at Republican proposals to restructure Medicare. For example, 77% oppose plans to convert Medicare to a premium support plan, and Republican candidates have mostly avoided this Medicare third rail in this election cycle.

Seniors are also more focused on voting priorities other than health care, such as which party controls Congress (picked by 77% of seniors vs 63% of younger voters), and in general they are more approving of President Trump (32% strong approval for seniors vs 23% for younger voters).

The bottom line: In midterms, it’s the bases for both parties and seniors who are most likely to vote. With Medicare mostly in hiding, the role health plays for the pivotal senior vote favors the Democrats but could be modest.

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