The master-gardener meeting, the bridge tournament, and a heated match of seven-card draw poker leave little time for politics at the Via Linda senior citizens’ center in Scottsdale, Arizona. Yet ask about President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and it doesn’t take long to determine the preferred candidate.
“He has some very socialistic leanings and believes in big government,” Lu Ittner, 86, a retired surgical nurse, said of Obama. “He is destroying our economy with his policies.”
While Obama so far dominates Romney among many demographic groups -- women, younger voters, middle-aged voters, blacks and Hispanics -- the presumptive Republican presidential nominee has a solid lead among the nation’s senior citizens. Some of the most reliable voters, those 65 and older represented 16 percent of the electorate in the 2008 election, exit polls show.
A CNN/ORC International poll taken April 13-15 showed Romney led Obama, 54 percent to 39 percent, with seniors. Among those supporting Romney, 58 percent said their vote would be more against Obama than for Romney.
The Republican’s strength among seniors comes even though he has said he generally supports a plan put forward by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, that would gradually raise the Medicare eligibility age to 67 from 65 and turn it into a voucher-like program where future seniors would receive subsidies to purchase health care on the open market.
Romney, who turned 65 in March, has also said he’d raise the Social Security retirement age for younger people and index benefit increases for higher-income retirees to inflation instead of wages.
Democrats have sought to link Romney to the Ryan budget. Obama, 50, said during an April 3 speech that the changes in Ryan’s proposal would “ultimately end Medicare as we know it.”
Obama’s campaign has deployed Vice President Joe Biden, 69, as its top surrogate to senior citizens, including in the battleground and retiree-heavy state of Florida. During an April 19 stop in Phoenix, Biden reminded an audience that he knows what it’s like to be a grandfather, telling those gathered that grandchildren “love you and like you all the time,” unlike your own children.
Most Competitive States
Some of the states projected by analysts from both parties to be the most competitive in November’s election are among those with the greatest concentrations of elderly, including Florida, Pennsylvania and Iowa, U.S. census data shows.
“For most seniors, Governor Romney’s record is a black box right now,” said Ben LaBolt, Obama’s re-election campaign spokesman. “But when they find out that he has proposed turning Medicare into a voucher program making seniors pay thousands more out of pocket each year and gutting funding for Social Security, these numbers will move.”
Romney’s campaign had no immediate response.
His preferred status among more seniors follows a trend of recent national elections.
In 2008, Senator John McCain, 75, of Arizona beat Obama among seniors, 53 percent to 45 percent. The advantage for Republicans grew even greater in the 2010 midterm election, when the party won control of the U.S. House. In that election, 59 percent of older voters supported Republicans in congressional races.
While Romney, a grandfather of 18, enters this general election campaign ahead among seniors, Obama maintains an advantage among younger voters. A survey by Harvard University’s Institute of Politics released last month showed the president with a 17-percentage-point lead among Americans ages 18 to 29.
A report published in November by the non-partisan Pew Research Center in Washington found that older voters tend to hold more restrictive views on social issues such as abortion rights and gay marriage and also have a growing unease -- even anger -- about the direction the country is headed. That has moved them more toward the Republican side since 2006, according to the study.
Some of the animosity toward Obama at the senior center in Scottsdale is likely the result of Arizona traditionally being a loyal Republican state. Since 1952, it has backed one Democratic presidential candidate: Bill Clinton in 1996. In 2008, McCain carried his home state over Obama, 54 percent to 45 percent.
‘Not This Time’
Taking a break from a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle featuring a Pennsylvania farmers’ market scene, Roger Fieldhouse said he regrets his vote for Obama in 2008.
“Not this time,” the retired pay telephone salesman said. “He says one thing and his staff does something else. I guess you don’t call it lying, but it’s not telling the truth.”
Fieldhouse, 81, said he’s most troubled by Obama’s January decision to reject a TransCanada Corp. proposal to build an oil pipeline through environmentally sensitive parts of Nebraska. Still, he doesn’t express much excitement about Romney.
“I won’t be voting for someone,” he said. “I will be voting against someone.”
Gerry Clough, 72, a retired oil industry chief financial officer, called Obama “incompetent,” and said there was “no way I would for someone as evil as Obama.”
Clough said seniors are more supportive of Romney because they’re more experienced in life.
“They rose in a country with more morality,” he said. “They grew up thinking that being a parasite was not a good thing.”
Obama, whose campaign is considering whether to actively compete in Arizona due in part to its growing Hispanic population, has some supporters at the senior citizens center. Pat McIntire, 72, said Obama entered office amid a declining economy and should get credit for stabilizing the country.
“I like what he’s done so far, after the disaster we had,” said McIntire, who retired from marketing and sales. “It takes a while to build a country back up.”