In tight Senate race, AARP poll shows Social Security, Medicare may become flash points


In a state where millions rely on Social Security benefits and Medicare, a new poll shows that both issues resonate with a large swath of Florida’s mature voters, who are usually among the most dependent voters in deciding elections.

A poll commissioned by AARP of voters aged 50 and older shows that Social Security and Medicare were the second most critical issues in the state behind inflation and rising prices. The poll numbers suggest they could become an important flash point in the tightening race between Republican incumbent Sen. Marco Rubio and Democratic Rep. Val Demings.

Florida, the nation’s third-largest state, had more than 5.4 million people who received Social Security benefits in 2020. And nearly 4.9 million were enrolled in Medicare as of May 2022.

The poll of older voters found that 12% said Social Security and Medicare were the most prominent issues to them, notching just behind the 15% who said inflation and rising prices were their most critical issues.

Meanwhile, 88% of the 50-plus age cohort also identified Social Security as an extremely important issue when determining who to vote for. When broken down by party line, 91% of registered Democrats compared to 87% of Republicans and 83% of independents identified it as important or very important.

When asked, 92% of voters also said they would be more likely to support a Senate candidate who opposes cuts to workers’ earned Social Security benefits. This position is overwhelmingly true for Democrats, 97%, and extremely high, 90%, among Republicans and independents.

Working on behalf of AARP Floridathe bipartisan polling team of Fabrizio Ward and Impact Research interviewed 1,626 likely Florida voters statewide Aug. 24-31. The sample included 500 likely voters and oversamples of 550 likely voters 50 and older, 262 Hispanic likely voters 50 and older, and 314 Black likely voters 50 and older.

The margin of error for voters 50 and older was 3.3 percentage points.

The AARP poll also tracks what it calls “Senate persuadable” voters or those who haven’t definitively decided yet who to vote for. They account for 19% of the 50-plus segment of the electorate.

The percentage of these undecided Senate voters who identified the fate of Social Security benefits as their most important issue (13%) exceeded their peers (12%). But fewer of those persuadables (91%) reported being more likely to support a candidate who supports maintaining Social Security.

Nationwide, Social Security provided a supplemental source of income in 2020 for 69.8 million people (55% were women), according to federal data. The Social Security Administration administers four types of benefits: retired, disability, surviving spouses or children, and sadditional security income or SSI.

The government pays for Social Security benefits through payroll taxes, and the program is funded on a somewhat real-time basis. Nearly 90% of the $1.1 trillion costs of the program in 2020 were funded through payroll taxes collected in 2020, according to the federal government.

In the wake of the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, Rubio said he would work with Sen. Mitt Romney to file what is now being called The New Parent Act legislation to allow parents to use a portion of their Social Security benefits for up to three months of paid parental leave after the birth or adoption of a child.

While Rubio said it would “make a real difference to American parents and children in need,” an Urban Institute analysis of the plan found that by the time the paid leave person retires, the worker would have lost somewhere between $9,200 and $22,100 in retirement benefits (in inflation-adjusted 2018 dollars).

Democrats pounced on the announcement, noting that Rubio has repeatedly said since 2010 that those programs will bankrupt the United States and previously suggested increasing the retirement age.

While politicians often have heated debates about Medicare, support among voters transcends party lines, the AARP poll shows.

Ninety-two percent of those polled said they would be more likely to get behind a candidate who opposes Medicare cuts and instead supports policies to ensure seniors “get the health care they need.”

When broken down by party, Democrats are more enthusiastic about the issue, with 99% of Democrats saying they would be more likely to support a candidate who protected Medicare from cuts compared to just 89% of Republicans and independents.

At the same time, 91% of respondents said they would be more likely or much more likely to support candidates who backed policies to allow Medicare to negotiate for prescription drug costs. The recently passed “Inflation Reduction Act,” which Demings voted for, and Rubio opposed, will enable Medicare to negotiate prices for certain high price drugs starting in 2026. The legislation also puts in place next year a cap on copays for Medicare recipients who receive insulin.

Again, when broken down by party, 97% of Democrats said the position of letting Medicare negotiate for drug prices would likely impact whether they supported candidates. That is compared to 87% and 89% of Republicans and independents who reported the same.

And though they are policies favored by voters, the family-caregiver tax credit and expanding long-term care options have less sway with voters in the Senate race, with just 86% reporting they would be more likely to support candidates because they endorsed the ideas .

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