Seniors Focus On Finances, Wars Ahead Of Vote Polls show seniors are by far the likeliest age group to turn out in next month's midterm elections. According to a survey by the senior lobbying group AARP, more than two-thirds of all voters are likely to be older than 45.
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Pa. Seniors Focus On Finances, Wars Ahead Of Vote

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Pa. Seniors Focus On Finances, Wars Ahead Of Vote

Pa. Seniors Focus On Finances, Wars Ahead Of Vote

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

President Obama has recently invested quite a bit of time in an effort to rally young voters: holding events on college campuses and giving interviews to MTV and Rolling Stone Magazine. He's not spent so much time with older voters, yet polls show they are by far the most likely age group to turn out in next month's midterm elections in large numbers. According to a survey by the senior lobbying group AARP, more than two-thirds of all voters are likely to be older than 45.

NPR's Brian Naylor traveled to Pennsylvania to find out what's on the minds of older voters.

BRIAN NAYLOR: Pennsylvania is home to many seniors, about 15 and a half percent of its population, according to the Census Bureau one of the highest ratios in the nation.

The 12th Congressional District in southwestern Pennsylvania has the highest percentage of elderly voters in the state. Its largest city, Johnstown, has been hard hit by the economic downturn. Many of the downtown shops are vacant.

I met Buck and Janis Naugle strolling through a nearly deserted city park, looking at Halloween decorations.

Mr. BUCK NAUGLE: I'm 74, and she's...

Ms. JANIS NAUGLE: Seventy-one.

Mr. NAUGLE: ...71.

Ms. NAUGLE: Seventy-one.

NAYLOR: Okay.

Mr. NAUGLE: She's catching up to me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NAYLOR: The Naugles are Democrats and say they'll definitely be voting on Election Day. Their biggest concern: the cost of health care.

Mr. NAUGLE: We're on Medicare, but we also have an HMO with the Blue Cross, and it's getting ridiculous. I just got my new pills for next month, which I've been paying $183 each of us. Now, it's up to 205.

NAYLOR: The Naugles' concerns over their finances are not unique among older voters. Many I spoke with mentioned they wouldn't be receiving a cost of living adjustment in their Social Security checks for the second year in a row.

Jon Delano teaches policy and politics at Carnegie Mellon University. Delano says most seniors are worried about these bread-and-butter issues.

Professor JON DELANO (Policy and Politics, Carnegie Mellon University): I think those are concerns that are shared at all generational levels, but I think that older folks in particular feel more sensitive to the issues of the economy when it comes to their own Social Security, their retirement security and the like.

NAYLOR: In fact, Democrat Joe Sestak, running for the Senate, has made a very distinct pitch to senior voters, running this ad accusing Republican Pat Toomey of wanting to privatize Social Security.

(Soundbite of political ad)

Unidentified Man: Congressman Pat Toomey wants to privatize Social Security.

Unidentified Woman: Privatize? I don't have another retirement plan. I couldn't live without Social Security.

NAYLOR: Toomey's response is that he believes younger Americans should be given a choice of investing some Social Security funds into private accounts.

President Obama narrowly lost this district in 2008, and nationally, those 65 and older were one of the few demographic groups to support Republican John McCain. It's unclear whether Mr. Obama is doing much better among them now.

Sixty-nine-year-old John Lacko is wearing a Steelers cap and a camo jacket, and may be emblematic of the culturally conservative voters in southwestern Pennsylvania. While he didn't vote for Mr. Obama in 2008, he doesn't hold him responsible for the current state of the economy.

Mr. JOHN LACKO: The race doesn't mean nothing to me. I had my best friends were colored in school when was I was in (unintelligible). Everybody blame Obama. I think President Bush left a lot of paperwork on his desk for him. And he's trying his best, but it's hard.

NAYLOR: Like Lacko, 74-year-old Eugene Russell Hydenthal didn't vote for President Obama in 2008, nor does he blame him for the state of the economy. And he raises one issue few Americans of any stripe seem to be talking about this campaign season: the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mr. EUGENE RUSSELL HYDENTHAL: I'd like to see the country get straightened the hell out is what I'd like to do and bring our boys and girls home that are over there dying for somebody else.

NAYLOR: Any of the candidates talked about that this year?

Mr. HYDENTHAL: No, no. None of them. They just got their own agenda.

NAYLOR: Still Hydenthal, like other senior voters was optimistic that things would turn around, providing, he said, you find the right people.

Brian Naylor, NPR News.

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