The nation’s economy is humming along, with unemployment near historic lows and growth roaring past 3 percent. So is the economy in the country’s largest swing state. So why do so many voters in Florida-particularly the bloc of voters 50 and older that are often so decisive in elections there-feel like they are falling behind?
Like so much across the country in the era of President Donald Trump, much of that dissonance appears to be the result of partisan politics. According to an exclusive new POLITICO/AARP poll in Florida that included a particular focus on voters 50 years of age and older, Republicans aren’t only more likely to be optimistic about the future – they’re more likely to say they their own financial situation has improved in recent years.
But there is also widespread anxiety about whether older Floridians will have enough money to retire, or to support family members later in life who need help. Those concerns are poised to play a significant role in this fall’s midterm election in Florida, as older voters there say they prioritize issues like health care and entitlements as much as-or more than-the economy and national security.
On a list of issues, more than three-quarters of voters 50 years and older, 76 percent, say health care will be very important to their vote for Congress this fall. Social Security (73 percent) is second, followed by national security and terrorism (70 percent), the economy and jobs (69 percent) and Medicare (68 percent). Lower on the list: taxes (60 percent), guns (59 percent), drug prices (55 percent) and immigration (53 percent).
Voters 50 years of age and older generally see an improving, or at least stable economy, the poll shows. Nearly half, 47 percent, say the U.S. economy has gotten better over the past two years, while only 17 percent say it has gotten worse. About a third, 31 percent, say it has stayed about the same. But that perception doesn’t extend to voters’ own pocketbooks. Only 21 percent of voters 50 and older say their personal financial situation has improved over that same time period, compared with 25 percent who say their situation has gotten worse. Slightly more than half, 52 percent, say their situation has stayed about the same. And roughly half, 49 percent, say their income is falling behind their cost of living.
Older Florida voters aren’t optimistic about future generations, either. Fewer than a quarter of them, 24 percent, think younger people will be better off financially than people are today. Fully two-in-five, 40 percent, think future generations will be worse off.
How did this happen? The economy in Florida is booming: Gross domestic product grew 3.7 percent in the fourth quarter of last year, the most recent quarter for which data are available. The state’s unemployment rate for May was 3.8 percent-right around the national average.
Whether it is a symptom or the underlying malady, partisanship helps explain this conflict-and accounts for much of the pessimistic undertone of our survey results. Among voters 50 and older who say they are Republicans, 43 percent believe future generations will be better off financially, and 21 percent will be worse off. But very few Democratic voters 50 and older are hopeful about future generations’ financial situation: Only 6 percent think they will be better off, compared with 61 percent who think they will be worse off.
deciders-final-2.jpgThere are even partisan differences in how older Floridians view their own finances. Thirty-one percent of Republicans say their personal financial situation has improved in the past two years, more than double the 15 percent of Democrats and independents who say their situation is improved. Similarly, 29 percent of Democrats and 33 percent of independents say their personal financial situation has gotten worse-but only 18 percent of Republicans say they are worse off now than they were two years ago.
The POLITICO/AARP poll explores these countervailing trends and how they could affect the midterm elections in Florida. Roughly half of registered voters typically turn out in midterm elections in Florida, and the majority of those who cast ballots are 50 years of age or older. On the ballot this year in the state is a closely watched Senate race, a wide-open contest for governor and elections in a half-dozen contested congressional districts that could determine which party controls the House of Representatives next January.
The survey is part of “The Deciders” series, powered by a polling and data partnership with AARP. The poll was conducted May 29-30 by Morning Consult and consists of interviews with 1,199 self-identified, registered Florida voters, of whom 653 were 50 or older. Interviews were conducted online, and the data were weighted by age, race and ethnicity, gender and educational attainment. The margin of error for the full sample is plus or minus 3 percentage points, and the margin of error for voters 50 and older is plus or minus 4 percentage points.
Amid intense polarization on the future of the economy in Florida, older voters are not feeling secure about their own retirements. Only 14 percent of voters 50 and older are very confident they will have enough money to retirement, while another 30 percent say they are somewhat confident. But roughly half say they are not too confident or not confident at all they will have enough money to retire. The partisan differences are smaller, but Republicans are more likely than Democrats to say they are at least somewhat confident they will have enough money to retire, though there is little difference in the percentages who describe themselves as very confident. And voters who make more money now are more likely to say they are very confident they will have enough to retire: Thirty percent of those making more than $100,000 a year are very confident, but only 8 percent of those making less than $50,000 a year are that confident.
While many older Floridians are anxious about their financial futures, they are more confident in federal entitlements. Roughly two-thirds, 66 percent, are very or somewhat confident that Medicare will be there when they need it. And 67 percent are very or somewhat confident that Social Security will be there for them. (The survey was conducted before the release of a report earlier this month that projected Medicare’s hospital trust fund will be insolvent in 2026, earlier than previously forecast.)
Despite general confidence in Medicare, health expenses are older Floridians’ greatest concern, the poll shows. A plurality, 38 percent, say they worry about having health expenses they can’t afford-more than worry about not being able to afford retirement (22 percent), having to pay for everyday expenses (21 percent), having to pay too much in taxes (9 percent), not being able to find or keep a job (2 percent) and not being able to pay for college education (1 percent). According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, health-care costs over the past two-and-a-half decades have risen 6.3 percent a year, on average, in Florida – just ahead of the national pace of 6 percent a year.
These numbers are the backdrop for another active election cycle in America’s perennial and quintessential political battleground, and here the survey shows mixed signs for the president and his party. Florida voters are evenly divided on Trump’s job performance: 48 percent approve, and 48 percent disapprove, though there is greater intensity among those who disapprove. Democrats have a negligible, two-point advantage on the generic ballots for governor and Congress. Expected nominee Gov. Rick Scott has an insignificant, one-point lead in what is likely to be the nation’s most expensive Senate race this year, against incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson.
Voters 50 and older lean more Republican. Trump’s approval rating is 52 percent among older Floridians, and Scott leads Nelson by 9 points. Republicans have a 5-point lead on the generic congressional ballot, and a 7-point lead in the governor’s race. (Nominees in the governor’s race will be picked in the late August primary.)
Nelson, Scott and other candidates in Florida will likely spend significant time and resources courting older voters. Seniors 65 years and older made up just 20 percent of the state’s 18-and-over adult population in the last midterm elections, in 2014. But nearly 60 percent of them voted-much higher than the state’s overall turnout rate of roughly 42 percent.
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