Heidi, a 52-year-old mother of two adult children and a caregiver for her mother-in-law, told me what was on her mind at a recent event in Arizona. “I need help,” she said plainly. “My children and I do all that we can for their Grandma, and we never mind spending all the time we can with her. But the finances are overwhelming.”
Arizona voters like Heidi will vote in November for governor, state legislative seats, U.S. Senate, U.S. House and more. And in the next 100 days, as candidates continue on the campaign trail, they should heed voices like Heidi’s if they want to win. Why? Because repeatedly it’s been shown that voters age 50-plus are the deciding factor in tight races. Put simply: older voters show up.
That’s what led to the development of the POLITICO/AARP polling project, called “The Deciders,” which just examined Arizona voters’ concerns. We wanted to inform both office seekers and officeholders what the 50-plus in our state have to say.
What did the survey find?
Notably, 87 percent of 50-plus voters “strongly support” or “somewhat support” a state income tax credit for family caregivers. And 77 percent of 50-plus voters support maintaining funding for Arizona’s Medicaid program that provides low-income seniors the choice of remaining in their home with comprehensive services as opposed to going into a nursing home.
The poll also asked about issues on the national stage.
Several issues, voters said, will be “very important” as they vote: 78 percent said Social Security is “very important,” followed by health care (76 percent) and Medicare (75 percent).
Older voters aren’t a monolith. They are a broad, diverse group spanning generations, income brackets, political affiliations, and cultural backgrounds. Despite their differences and diversity, the poll found there’s a lot that unifies the people of our state.
For example, a wide margin (72 percent) wants Washington to take action to lower prescription drug costs by allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices. And an impressive 19 out of 20 older voters strongly or somewhat agree that workers must be protected from age discrimination. What one often hears from our elected representatives doesn’t always reflect this broad consensus.
Arizonans 50-plus aren’t only concerned with legislative matters, they care how the government provides services too.
An interesting finding in the poll is the disapproval of the Department of Veterans Affairs: 62 percent believe the VA is doing a “very bad job” or “somewhat bad job.” Respondents ranked the problems facing our veterans as follows: first, depression and anxiety, followed by homelessness, PTSD, suicide, and opioid and other prescription drug abuse.
The anxiety about issues like Social Security, health care and Medicare should not go unnoticed by politicians. Older voters are routinely the largest age group to vote in midterm elections. Yet, some candidates, campaigns and policymakers underestimate their influence. Candidates who want to win on Election Day must hear and address their concerns.
AARP is connecting with thousands of voters during tele-town hall meetings, on the ground at events and through a full-scale digital effort. A centerpiece of AARP’s voter engagement effort is urging Arizonans to pledge to vote, and then to turn out and cast their ballot on November 6.
Voters age 50 and over are a powerful force, and they shouldn’t be underestimated. Our survey suggests that they have a lot on their minds as this election season enters the homestretch.
Candidates would be wise to listen to Heidi and the other older voters who will turn out, because history has shown they are “The Deciders.”
— Dana Marie Kennedy is Arizona AARP state director.
The views expressed in guest commentaries are those of the author and are not the views of the Arizona Capitol Times.