Power of the 50+ voter should not be underestimated


By Deborah E. Banda

On Nov. 2, Massachusetts voters will elect the first governor of the new decade. They will also cast their ballots for state representative, state senator and U.S. Representative, among others. Yet, as decision day draws near, we hear more and more about voter dissatisfaction with politicians, the political system, the status quo. A still sluggish economy, continued high unemployment and financial frustration are all factors. But how will they translate in the voting booth? Will incumbents suffer, regardless of their achievements? Will a new party emerge? Will we encounter voter apathy, and low turnout?

There are “agents of change” in the upcoming election: they are older voters. That’s right. A recent poll conducted by Pew Research and the National Journal Congressional Connection found that 32 percent of Americans age 65 and older would be more likely to vote for someone who had never held public office — the largest percentage of any age group. Compared to the youngest segment of voters, those 18 to 29, the 65-plus set also would be:

•three times less likely to vote for an incumbent; and

•nearly three times less likely to vote for candidates willing to compromise on key issues.

Though attitudes may have changed, one thing remains the same: Older persons vote in greater proportion than any other age group. But, they don’t cast their ballots based on sound bites and slogans. They vote on issues. They want to know where the candidates stand on the issues that matter most to their families: from work and economic security to health care and prescription drug affordability.

According to a May Census Bureau report, 72 percent of those 55 to 74 voted in the 2008 presidential election, compared with just 49 percent of those 18 to 24.

What does this mean for Massachusetts — when the stakes are higher than ever with a record number of competitive seats up at the State House? It’s clear: Older voters have the power to make a real difference at the polls. And, candidates should take note.

After all, in just 10 short years, Massachusetts’ 60-plus population will significantly increase, effectively redefining the face of our commonwealth. This election will be crucial when it comes to aging policy and preparing our state for the demographic shift that is bearing down on us. Voters need to know: How do the candidates view aging? What are their priorities and positions? Bottom line: Do they have what it takes to make the Commonwealth of Massachusetts a leader when it comes to aging policy?

To help older voters get the facts they need to make informed decisions, AARP Massachusetts has launched an extensive, nonpartisan voter education campaign. We have asked every major candidate for governor, state representative, state senator and U.S. Representative to take part — to state their positions on key issues, which we have published in voters’ guides and side-by-sides.

We have asked the candidates for governor and state legislative offices about:

•jobs for older workers;

•health care affordability;

•housing and transportation;

•home and community based services; and

•prescription drug affordability.

And, for federal races — in Massachusetts, U.S. Representative — we will highlight the candidates’ statements in side-by-side comparisons on:

•Social Security solvency;

•the deficit and Social Security;

•Medicare fraud; and

•access to doctors.

As a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, AARP does not endorse candidates for public office. We don’t make contributions to political campaigns or candidates. And, we do not own a PAC (political action committee).

We are working hard to distribute the AARP Massachusetts voters’ guides and side-by-sides as broadly as possible. They are available online at www.aarp.org/ma. You may also pick up copies at your local senior center, Council on Aging or public library. We will also question the candidates for selected races, including governor, during campaign events. As the race moves into high gear, we must get past the rhetoric and on to the issues that matter most to older residents and their families.

I urge you to take the time to find out where the candidates stand on the issues that are important to you. What is their vision for meeting the needs of our aging population? Ask them questions at local events, read our voters’ guides and side-by-sides, help get out the vote in your community. And, most importantly, use your power: Vote on Tuesday, Nov. 2.

Deborah Banda is the state director of AARP Massachusetts, which serves more than 800,000 members age 50 and over in the Bay State. Connect with AARP MA online at www.aarp.org/ma, www.facebook.com/aarpma and www.twitter.com/aarpma.)

To review the  AARP Massachusetts Gubernatorial Voters’ Guide go online at www.aarp.org/ma or call 866-448-3621 to receive your own copy.