Here’s why protecting Social Security may be a consensus issue for key group of women voters in the midterm elections

A primary election voter enters a Tampa, Florida, polling place on Aug. 23, 2022.
Octavio Jones | Getty Images

Most women ages 50 and up plan to vote in this November’s midterm elections, but half of them have not decided which candidates they will vote for, a new AARP poll finds.

One key issue they do agree on is protecting Social Security, the national survey of 800 female voters ages 50 and up found.

Women voters mostly agree they want benefit cuts prevented. Three-quarters of respondents say such a move would personally help them.

The national survey was conducted by phone and online between Sept. 6 and 13.

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“You rarely see that kind of personal connection between a political debate and an issue,” Democratic pollster Celinda Lake, founder and president of Lake Research Partners, said during a Tuesday webcast hosted by AARP.

While 64% of women ages 50 to 64 indicated protecting Social Security would help them a lot, 84% of women over 65 said the same.

“You just don’t see numbers like that,” Lake said.

Older women are a powerful voting demographic

Women ages 50 and up represent a powerful cohort of about 63 million voters, according to AARP.

They tend to have a high election turnout — representing, for example, 30% of votes cast in 2020 while accounting for just 25% of the voting age population, noted Nancy LeaMond, chief advocacy and engagement officer at AARP.

Social Security has become a key focal point for some political leaders in an attempt to get an upper hand ahead of the November contests.

President Joe Biden slammed Republican plans for the program at a White House event last week, while Republicans have been quick to reject criticism that they’re out to kill the program. Sens. Rick Scott, R-Fla., and Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., have called for revisiting Social Security and Medicare every five years and annually, respectively.

Democrats, on the other hand, have broadly called for preserving the program’s current benefits, and even implementing some generous increases.

Lake said she believes Democrats haven’t been loud enough with their messaging on the program.

“I hope you’ll see a number of Democrats turn to this issue in the remaining five weeks of the campaign,” Lake said.

Women ages 50 to 64, in particular, are “completely freaked” that Social Security may not be sufficiently there when they retire, according to Lake.

“It’s a huge distinction,” she said. “It’s a huge issue.”

Most women plan to collect Social Security

Social Security remains a top expected source of income in retirement for women workers, according to a recent report from the Employee Benefit Research Institute. That research found 9 in 10 married and divorced women and 8 in 10 single, never-married female workers who plan to retire expect to collect Social Security checks.

But wealth has been declining for both women and men as they approach retirement, according to the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. As Social Security’s full retirement age moves higher — to age 67 for those born in 1960 or later — claimants may see reduced benefits. Moreover, many have fewer retirement assets due to the Great Recession.

The AARP’s latest survey of women 50 and up follows research from earlier this year that found this cohort was laser-focused on inflation and kitchen table economics.

Those concerns are still prominent in these voters’ minds, with half indicating the economy is not working for them.

Moreover, 66% of women ages 50 and up now say they are cutting non-essential purchases, 41% say they have cut back on essentials and 40% are saving less as the cost of living has gone up.

The actions that would help them the most, the survey found, would be lowering the cost of food, gas or health care, as well as expanding Medicare to cover dental and vision.

Views diverge when things get political

As the election approaches, this cohort is also more focused on political issues.

For Republican women ages 50 and up, top issues include inflation and rising prices, crime, immigration and election security.

For female Democrats, top issues include voting rights and threats to democracy, followed by gun violence and abortion.

Independent women voters ages 50 and up cited division in the country, voting rights, threats to democracy, inflation and rising prices, in that order.

Sophie Tremblay

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