Florida remains a tossup, but a new survey points to one key reason Mitt Romney is polling well in a state where he was trailing not long ago: President Obama’s advantage on Medicare is essentially gone.
The president holds a 46-41 percent lead over Romney on who Americans trust to handle Medicare, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll released Wednesday, barely outside the survey’s 4 percent margin of error. That’s an 11-point swing from last month, when Obama was leading by 52 to 36 percent.
The finding was starker in a mid-October Florida poll, which had Romney up 7 points and found that the state’s seniors believed by a whopping 54-40 margin that Obama would do more long-term harm to Medicare.
Seniors comprise some 17 percent of Florida’s population, and voters rank Medicare as a top issue, making the Sunshine State a test case for how the debate is faring. Romney’s surge there has correlated with his dramatically improved Medicare numbers.
In late September, Obama held a 3-point lead over Romney in Florida, according to the PollTracker average. Romney then came back to lead for nearly all of October, although recent polls show the contest tightening again.
Neutralizing the president’s Medicare advantage is a remarkable feat given Romney’s support for Paul Ryan’s unpopular plan to convert the program into a voucher system. According to the Kaiser poll, 61 percent of likely voters oppose Romney-Ryan Medicare reforms, including 72 percent of elderly voters.
“I think it has helped him with older women,” Democratic pollster Celinda Lake told TPM, referring to Romney’s success in closing the Medicare gap.
He did so by emphasizing, on the campaign trail and during the presidential debates, that the proposal does not apply to Americans over the age of 55 and, as GOP strategists point out, hammering Obama for the Affordable Care Act’s $716 billion in Medicare cuts, while eliding the fact that they target providers only — and that Ryan’s budget includes the same cuts.
“It’s becoming increasingly clear that Florida is out of reach for President Obama as he Democrats lag drastically behind his 2008 pace in early vote and it is hard to see how the math works for him in the state. Medicare has been an important part of that,” boasts one Republican operative closely involved with the election. “The President’s record of raiding Medicare to pay for Obamacare severely undermined his credibility on the issue and the Obama campaign tacitly acknowledged that — after a big push on the issue following the selection of Paul Ryan it has faded to the background of their messaging in Florida over the last few weeks.”
John Sides, a political science professor at George Washington University, notes that Romney “has closed the gaps on lots of dimensions, including Medicare.” He argues that the debates “helped make people see Romney more positively” across the issues. The change in voters’ perception effectively neutralized what Democrats saw as one of Romney’s biggest vulnerabilities.
Florida isn’t a done deal yet. But if Romney wins in a close race, one possible lesson he and the GOP could take from it is that radical Medicare reform proposals aren’t necessarily politically deadly.
Sahil Kapur is a congressional reporter for TPM. He previously covered politics and public policy for numerous publications including The Guardian and The Huffington Post. He can be reached at sahil [at] talkingpointsmemo.com.