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Herb Weiss: Presidential Candidates Mum on Social Security

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

 

Just a week before the New Hampshire primary, scheduled for Tuesday, February 9, AARP releases a new survey, of likely primary voters, that finds Social Security is “one issue that transcends the partisan divide and unites people of all ages.”  Both surveyed Democrats and Republicans alike agreed that all presidential candidates should give details as to how they will strengthen or expand Social Security.

In recent presidential debates, moderators focus on the economy, abortion, gun control, immigration and defense, hardly touching on aging issues. The January 29 AARP survey found that voters want more specifics about Social Security. More than nine in ten New Hampshire primary voters across party lines and age groups say it is important for presidential candidates to lay out their specific plans to make Social Security financially sound for future generations.
 
Presidential Candidates Dodging Social Security Issue

“New Hampshire primary voters are sending a clear message to the presidential candidates that having a plan to keep Social Security strong is a test of leadership,” said AARP New Hampshire State Director Todd Fahey. “Yet, some presidential candidates are dodging the issue. Our survey confirms New Hampshire primary voters agree if a candidate thinks they’re ready to be president, they should at least be able to tell voters where they stand on Social Security’s future.”
 
According to AARP, the recent survey of 1,004 likely New Hampshire primary voters, was conducted by telephone from January 12 through January 16, 2016. By design, half of the respondents consist of likely Democratic primary voters (501) and half consist of likely Republican primary voters (503).
 
The AARP survey is part of nonprofit’s 2016 presidential election issue campaign, “Take A Stand.”  In November, the nonprofit launched its its 2016 election accountability campaign initiative which demands on behalf of America’s voters that presidential candidates detail their specific positions on making Social Security financially sound.
 
The survey findings indicate that nine in 10 New Hampshire primary voters (93 percent Democrat and 92 percent Republican) across party lines and age groups say its important for presidential candidates to lay out a detailed plan to make Social Security financially sound for future generations. Regardless of age, nearly half or more of likely primary voters in each party think this is “very important.”
 
Also, more than three in four New Hampshire primary voters, across party lines and across age groups, agree that having a plan for Social Security is a basic threshold for presidential leadership. This includes 89 percent of likely Democratic primary voters and 80 percent of likely Republican primary voters.
 
Moreover, nearly nine in ten or more voters across both parties and age groups believe it is important that the next president and congress take action to make Social Security financially sound. This includes 96 percent of Democratic primary voters as well as 92 percent of Republican primary voters.
 
“If our leaders don’t act, future generations could see their Social Security benefits cut by 25 percent. That’s a $4,000 to $10,000 per year benefit cut! This survey confirms how critical it is for the next president to have a plan to update Social Security and a commitment to act on that plan,” said Fahey.
 
On the question of which presidential candidate they expect to vote for on February 9, the AARP survey found that among likely Republican primary voters, Donald Trump is the leading choice for president (preferred by 32 percent) with Marco Rubio preferred by 14 percent and John Kasich preferred by 13 percent However, more than one in four (26 percent) are less certain who will get their vote.
 
Among likely Democratic primary voters, Bernie Sanders is the leading choice for president (preferred by 59 percent), with Hillary Clinton coming in second (preferred by 33 percent. But one in five (21 percent are less certain who will get their vote.
 
“AARP said early on in the election cycle that Social Security is too critical a matter – and one affecting far too many people – to allow it to be skimmed over, breezed by, or paid only lip service,” said AARP Rhode Island State Director Kathleen Connell. “The presidential candidates need to take a stand on how they would update Social Security to keep it financially strong and adequate for future generations,” she says.
 
“Unfortunately, Social Security does not seem to be top-of-mind for candidates nor a discussion that finds its way into the debates,” says Connell, observing that some candidates, including some front runners, remain silent on the Social Security issue.
(You can get the very latest news and read what candidates plans did say here)
 
 Connell says, “The challenge itself – keeping Social Security strong for the future – gets talked about a lot. You can be sure that when a candidate or elected federal official visits a senior center there will be a pledge (one I happen to believe has been sincere in Rhode Island) to protect Social Security.”
 
“You don’t hear so much about how. The devil is in the details. And, as the saying goes, ‘It’s complicated,’” adds Connell.
 
Older Voters Have Political Clout
 

From inside the Beltway, Darrell M. West, Ph.D., Vice President and Director of Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution, considers voters age 50 and over are one of the most important voting blocks in the nation.

“It is a numerous group and these people vote in higher percentages than those who are younger. They often are decisive in elections and candidates have to take their views seriously,” says West.
 
Connell agrees about the clout of older voters. “The average age for a Rhode Island voter in the 2012 presidential election was 48.6, and that was up from 48.5 in 2010. We know that older Rhode Islanders vote in high percentages and we know that the 50+ population is grown as people live longer. But I have to say that when it comes to Social Security, voters 50 and older are united on the issue; they expect some form of accountability from the candidates on how they would lead on this issue, she says.

Anyone who thinks they’re ready to be President of the United States should be able to tell voters how they’ll keep Social Security strong,” adds Connell. “If our leaders don’t act, future retirees could lose up to $10,000 a year. Every year our leaders wait and do nothing, finding a solution grows more difficult,” she says.
 
Aging issues impact everyone, says Connell.  “When I am asked about ‘aging issues it seems to me to indicate how people often default to a narrow view of ageing. Access to and the cost of healthcare is an issue for all ages. Taxation is an issue for all ages. Affordable housing is an issue for all ages. Protecting pensions is an issue for all ages, even for voters working in their 30s or 40s – as is the issue of Social Security. Our aging population presents a challenge to all Americans and I think you will see 50+ voters becoming increasingly liked-minded making more and more of an effort to be heard.”  

 Herb Weiss, LRI ’12 is a Pawtucket, Rhode Island writer covering aging, health care and medical issues.  He can be reached at [email protected].

 

Related Slideshow: The 2016 President Candidates Ranked by Absurdity

InsideGov ranked the levels of absurdity for each candidate by these four criteria:

  • A consistently low 2015 polling average: consistently low poll numbers make campaigns more superfluous, and thus, more absurd
  • Extreme ideologies: candidates with extreme views—whether way to the left or way to the right—tend to be less viable, and thus, more ridiculous
  • Little-to-no years of elected office or active-duty military experience: inexperienced and unproven, these candidates are more prone to absurdity
  • Multiple attempts at the presidency: the more attempts, the less serious the candidate becomes

Prev Next

#21

Candidate: Scott Walker 

Absurdity Index: 37.1 (very low)

What InsideGov said

He might be the most boring candidate in the race, but he’s also the least ridiculous. The Governor of Wisconsin has 22 years of elected experience and consistently solid polling numbers for 2016.

While he leans more conservative than average, he takes few truly extreme positions. He’s the most reasonable candidate in the entire field, by InsideGov’s metrics.

Prev Next

#20

Candidate: Martin O'Malley

Absurdity Index: 39.4

What InsideGov said

By InsideGov’s calculations, the former Governor of Maryland is the most moderate Democrat in the field, and among the five most moderate candidates overall.

Even if he never gains traction against the mighty Clinton machine, we can expect O’Malley to add a measured, level-headed perspective to the Democratic primaries.

Prev Next

#19

Candidate: Chris Christie

Absurdity Index: 39.7

What InsideGov said

While the Governor of New Jersey gets a bad rap for his bluster and blunt statements, the data suggests he’s one of the more reasonable candidates, on the whole. He’s moderate across almost every issue, and he's still alive in the polls.

“Bridgegate” might ultimately doom him, but his decision not to run for president in 2012 was classic, sensible Christie.

Prev Next

#18

Candidate: Hillary Clinton

Absurdity Index: 40.6

What InsideGov said

Clinton scores a few absurdity points across several categories: she’s only served eight years of elected office*, has run for president before, and is more liberal than all but one competitor. Still, her historically dominant position in the polls (nearly 50 points above her nearest challenger) means we have to take the former New York Senator seriously. In the position she’s in, it would be ridiculous for hernot to run.

*For our purposes, her terms as First Lady and Secretary of State do not count toward her total, because she was not elected to those positions.

Prev Next

#17

Candidate: Jeb Bush

Absurdity Index: 40.8

What InsideGov said

Some might say that three Bushes in three decades is absurd, but by our numbers, Jeb Bush is among the most sensible of the candidates. He consistently polls at the top of the GOP field, holds more moderate positions than most of his opponents and seems to have waited for the perfect time to run.

Prev Next

#16

Candidate: Lincoln Chafee

Absurdity Index: 43.0

What InsideGov said

The recent Democratic Party-convert holds moderate views and boasts 24 years of elected experience—enough to make him a logical candidate for the 2016 race. Only his extremely low polling numbers, which suggest that his candidacy will be irrelevant, bump him a few spots up this list.

Prev Next

#15

Candidate: Bernie Sanders

Absurdity Index: 43.5

What InsideGov said

The most liberal candidate in the field, Bernie Sanders will likely add a far-left voice to the Democratic primaries. That said, his decent polling numbers and 34 years of elected experience suggest he deserves to be in the conversation, regardless of his ideology.

Prev Next

#14

Candidate: Marco Rubio

Absurdity Index: 45.2

What InsideGov said: 

The Tea Party star turned respected Florida Senator boasts 15 years of experience and a solid polling average. Rubio’s sole weakness might be his strong conservative streak, which will make him less palatable in the general election. Only Rick Santorum and Ted Cruz hold viewpoints further to the right.

Prev Next

#13

Candidate: Lindsey Graham

Absurdity Index: 45.8

What InsideGov said

The South Carolina Senator has all the experience you’d ever want in a president: 22 years of elected service, another dozen of active-duty military service. Still, Graham’s abysmal polling numbers suggest he has no business in an already crowded field.

Prev Next

#12

Candidate: Jim Webb

Absurdity Index: 45.8

What InsideGov said

Similar to Graham, Jim Webb brings a combination of government and military service to the table, an attractive résumé that would seem to appeal to liberal and conservative voters alike. And while he doesn’t have quite as much total experience as Graham, Webb’s moderate ideology scores would make him a compelling general election contender. That said, Webb is so far behind Clinton in the polls that his candidacy likely won't last.

Prev Next

#11

Candidate: Rick Perry

Absurdity Index: 47.0

What InsideGov said

Though he leans more conservative than the average GOP candidate, Rick Perry’s 35 years of elected experience—including 15 as the Governor of Texas—make Perry an immediate contender. He’ll just need to escape the shadow of his failed 2012 run, where debate gaffes unraveled an otherwise promising campaign.

Prev Next

#10

Candidate: John Kasich

Absurdity Index: 47.3

What InsideGov said

The Governor of Ohio has over two decades of experience and a balanced mix of viewpoints that could appeal to national voters. For now, only a low polling average brings Kasich down. Given that the governor hasn’t officially announced his candidacy, Kasich could quickly find himself moving down the Absurdity Index and into a short list of contenders.

Prev Next

#9

Candidate: Rand Paul 

Absurdity Index: 48.8

What InsideGov said

While he’s relatively new to the game (particularly compared to his father, Ron Paul), Paul’s Libertarian leanings will likely help the Kentucky Senator win over a small subset of American voters. His bigger problem will be garnering support from traditional Democrats or Republicans—each of which will have fundamental disagreements with his platform.

Prev Next

#8

Candidate: George Pataki

Absurdity Index: 49.8

What InsideGov said

The former Governor of New York is, by InsideGov’s count, the last of the semi-viable 2016 candidates. His polling is currently in the gutter, but his moderate views, 25 years of experience and record as a GOP governor in a liberal state all contribute to a well-rounded presidential candidate. He just needs voters to pay attention.

Prev Next

#7

Candidate: Mike Huckabee

Absurdity Index: 52.2

What InsideGov said

Part pastor, part politician and part Fox News personality, Mike Huckabee has done a little bit of everything—past positions that will help him appeal to a loyal base of Evangelical voters.

For mainstream voters, however, Huckabee’s revolving door of professions, overemphasis on religious values and lack of foreign policy bonafides make him unfit for office.

Prev Next

#6

Candidate: Ben Carson

Absurdity Index: 55.4

What InsideGov said

Famous for being the first surgeon to successfully separate twins conjoined at the head, Ben Carson is a brilliant physician, but has never been a politician. While some might be refreshed by a candidate so removed from Washington, history tells us that these candidates are the most likely to be loose canons, with offhand comments that trained politicians are smart enough to avoid. For these reasons, Carson is likely to wind up more sideshow than serious contender.

Prev Next

#5

Candidate: Ted Cruz

Absurdity Index: 59.9

What InsideGov said

New to politics and more conservative than the entire field, Cruz easily ranks among 2016’s most absurd candidates. He’ll likely provide some entertainment at debates and in interviews, but there’s no way he’ll make it past New Hampshire. Only a consistent bloc of Tea Party support in the polls prevents him from finishing in the top four.

Prev Next

#4

Candidate: Bobby Jindal

Absurdity Index: 66.5

What InsideGov said

Both highly conservative and unappealing to voters, the Governor of Louisiana has seen a sharp decline in support since he bombed a 2009 State of the Union response. The data says that neither voters nor television networks will take his bid very seriously; he may be among the first to drop out.

Prev Next

#3

Candidate: Rick Santorum

Absurdity Index: 67.2

What InsideGov said

While Santorum’s years of elected experience are about average (16), his deeply conservative views and consistently low poll numbers make him a superfluous addition to the race.

The former Pennsylvania Senator might be hoping that his deep 2012 run will help validate his bonafides as a candidate, but GOP voters already seem weary of the candidate. If anything, his presidential election history will be more of a curse than a blessing.

Prev Next

#2

Candidate: Carly Fiorina

Absurdity Index: 75.4

What InsideGov said

Fiorina’s low polling numbers and zero years of elected experience work against the businesswoman, who has been trying to transition to politics for the last decade. She deserves praise for her quick rise to senior vice president at AT&T, but her tenure at HP is more ominous.

While serving as HP’s CEO, the company underperformed in the stock market, took on billions in debt, laid off 30,000 workers and saw employee satisfaction plummet. The company’s board eventually forced her to resign. Add to that a failed Senate bid in 2010, and Fiorina has gone many years without a signature victory. It’s unlikely that the 2016 election will mean anything different for the aspiring politician.

Prev Next

#1

Candidate: Donald Trump 

Absurdity Index: 191.2

What InsideGov said

When it comes to absurdity, Trump breaks the scale. Yes, his recent poll numbers aren’t terrible, but all candidates receive bumps after officially announcing their campaigns. Instead, it’s Trump’s wacky policy positions, decades of pretend presidential runs and zero years of elected experience that earn Trump the honor of 2016’s most absurd candidate.

Trump is more likely than anyone on this list to make headlines, yet less likely than the entire field to actually become president. He’s more than twice as ridiculous as the next-most absurd candidate. When the 2016 race is all over, don’t say Trump didn’t win anything. Congratulations, Donald.

 
 

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