Bipartisan panel discusses prioritized issues for the “most reliable” voting group: women over 50 years old

While Democrat women over 50 are concerned about voting rights and climate change, Republican and Independent women are “through the roof” concerned about inflation and the economy.

And while struggling with soaring inflation, older Americans’ retirement funds are also being hit by the stock market swoon.

That’s all according to a virtual conversation Tuesday hosted by AARP and RealClearPolitics delving into the “most reliable group of voters” – women aged 50 and older – and the issues they care most about leading up to the 2022 midterms.

The discussion was mediated by A.B. Stoddard, associate editor for RealClearPolitics, and included insight from a Republican pollster, a Democrat pollster, RealClearPolitics Washington Bureau Chief Carl Cannon and Executive Vice President of AARP Nancy LeaMond.

Speaking of a survey conducted in late spring, Republican pollster Christine Matthews, president of Bellwether Research & Consulting, said, “Even back then, the cost of living and rising costs of food just dominated their concerns. They’re very much economic voters. Democrat women also expressed concern about voting rights and climate change, but Republican and Independent women over 50 were just through the roof about rising prices and the economy.”

Cannon had jump-started the discussion with insights into how current economic failures and rising costs could affect the women-over-50 vote in November.

“We talk about these ‘kitchen table issues’ that are local to a family. Are the public schools good? Is the neighborhood safe? What’s inflation doing?,” he said. “Specifically with the 64+ aged women voters, there’s a couple big issues that play with them and one is inflation. The reason is, a lot of them are on fixed income. They also care about the stock market. Not because they’re hedge fund people, but because their retirement is in it. 

“They don’t have a chance to accumulate new wealth. So what they’re looking [for] is an economy that still works for them. And when it doesn’t, the incumbents are going to pay a price.” 

Asked if women view the economy differently than men, Democrat pollster Margie Omero, a principal at GBAO Strategies, seemed to shift the focus away from the flailing economy and record inflation. 

“They do, for sure. Not just the day-to-day cost of goods, but they think about their children and what’s going to be next for their children and grandchildren,” Omero said. “But I do want to actually note that there are other things where you saw a similarly large difference between women and men. 

“Feeling pains about depression, or caregiving, or stress over family, or worries about COVID. There were just a variety of different places beyond the economy where you had women over 50 feel something that they had been worried about over the past two years.”

Matthews noted a grim difference between how this age group of women felt about the economy a few years ago, versus their current feelings toward it.

“A few years ago in the AARP polling, a majority of women said, ‘The economy is working well for me,’” she told the panel. “And now, a majority of women, particularly women who are still in the workplace – 50 to 64 – say, ‘The economy is not working well for me.’ And those numbers were quite significantly different from a few years ago.”

Women 50 years of age and older, LeaMond says, are the “most reliable” voting demographic and one of the most important groups for candidates to target. There are 63 million women over the age of 50 in the United States, making up roughly 19% of the population. But according to LeaMond, the group “punches above their weight.”

According to AARP, women over 50 represent 27% of registered voters, and in 2020, they made up a whopping 30% of all ballots cast. Not only is this demographic the most widely represented at the polls, but AARP found that one-third of these women will be “ticket-splitters,” meaning each party has a chance to score votes in an election where multiple offices are up for grabs. 

Another major issue for women over 50 years old, according to the panel’s findings, is the constant conflict between political parties and the subsequent feeling that nothing gets accomplished in Washington, D.C. due to political games. 

“Women in particular … feel that things are not going well in our political system,” Matthews said. “Women feel that the country is not moving in the right direction, and that politicians are not getting anything done.” 

By more than a 2 to 1 margin, the AARP survey found that women over 50 prefer politicians who are “willing to work together to get things done, even if it means compromising on my values sometimes,” rather than politicians who “consistently fight for my values, even if this means not finding a solution very often.” 

“There are things that happen in Washington that have an impact, and [women over 50] don’t necessarily always feel that,” Omero said. “So they want to see more happen. And this has obviously been true for a while, but of course they see a lot of obstruction in Washington and feel that they want people to come together with a shared purpose and shared goal.”

The survey says women also feel their day-to-day lives, and the issues that come with them, are overlooked and not taken legitimately by politicians, causing them to feel forgotten or unimportant. When looking at six different focus groups’ data of women 50 and older across all political ideologies and ethnicities, “all of them said they felt invisible and unheard,” Omero said. 

“There wasn’t one group that seemed to feel it more or less. There’s a lot, I think, that elected officials could learn about how to speak to these women and really understand their struggle and daily life.”

“I really believe that seeing them and hearing them is the most important thing, because they really feel estranged,” Matthews agreed. “They feel invisible. And they feel that whatever it is the politicians are doing, it’s not about them. Talk about some of the things that these women are actually dealing with in their lives, and I think that’s really, really important.”

Stoddard asked Matthews about the substantial drop in President Biden’s approval rating, especially with women voters, as well as why she believes it happened and what the country can expect in the 2022 midterms. 

“Well, I think right now it’s not a choice. It’s a referendum on President Biden,” Matthews said. “A lot of things have gone very badly, starting with the pullout from Afghanistan. Then, of course, COVID keeps seeming to come back and come back. And now, 40-year-high inflation. 

“If people are paying $450 more per month on the things they bring into their home or the gas that they put into their car, that’s a major-big deal. Whether or not that’s President Biden’s fault can be debated, but the issue environment right now benefits Republicans.” 

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