Why Oldsters Love The GOP

by Jonathan Chait | February 22, 2010

Daniel Larison flags a Pew Survey showing that the Republican party's recent gains have come overwhelmingly among the elderly. Specifically, since 2006, Baby boomers, Generation X and Millenials have all moved 5-6 percentage points away from the Democratic Party and toward the GOP when asked which party in Congress they intend to vote for. (Though all those groups still, on the aggregate, plan to vote Democratic over Republican.) The oldest cohort, the "Silent Generation," has shown a staggering 17 point shift toward the GOP.

This seems to suggest that Republicans have successfully stoked fears of fears of "redistribution of health" -- cutting expenditures on Medicare and shifting resources toward the uninsured. (Lamar Alexander: "[D]on't cut grandma's Medicare and spend it on some new program. If you can find some savings in the waste, fraud, and abuse of grandma's Medicare, spend it on grandma.") It also explains why President Obama's health care proposal now completely fills in the Medicare "doughnut hole." The Democrats need most of all some deliverable to show to the elderly.

Ross Douthat comments:

But where the size of government — and if we ever want to cut the deficit, the burden of taxation — is concerned, they’ll be the whole ballgame soon enough. And if the Republican Party depends too heavily on over-65 voters for its political viability, we could easily end up with a straightforwardly big-government party in the Democrats, and a G.O.P. that wins election by being “small government” on the small stuff (earmarks, etc.) while refusing to even consider entitlement reform. That’s a recipe for one of two things: Either the highest taxes in American history and a federal government that climbs inexorably toward 30 percent of G.D.P., or a Greece or California-style disaster.

Well, there is a third option. Republicans could realize that 1) the future of conservatism depends upon restraining entitlement spending, 2) They'll never restrain entitlement spending without Democratic cover, and 3) Democrats won't give them cover unless they give some substantive ground. That would entail opening themselves up to a deal covering the uninsured in return for really tough spending controls, an even bigger Cadillac tax, comparative effectiveness research, and other delivery reforms. It would also mean seeking out a bipartisan deal to trim Social Security while raising taxes a bit -- the kind of deal Obama is all but begging for.

Of course this would require the party to abandon its theological opposition to tax hikes, whereas that theology has only deepened its hold on the party. So instead we're stuck in an equilibrium that's not terribly liberal but also headed inexorably toward much larger government.

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