A survey released Wednesday provides some welcome news for supporters of the Republican presidential ticket concerned about the potential for Democratic attacks on Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI)’s Medicare reform plan.
According to the Winston Group poll conducted for the conservative American Action Network, voters were about evenly split on which message they preferred as between various Republican ticket message options and the Democratic message that “the Romney-Ryan plan will end Medicare as we know it and turn Medicare into a voucher system.” Among seniors and independents, the preference shown by the poll for one or more of the Republican messages tested was even stronger.
From the Winston Group’s memo:
In these message tests, voters were asked to choose between:
– The Republican candidate who says that President Obama’s healthcare plan includes a tax on health insurance that will drive up the cost of your premiums. 50
– The Democrat candidate who says that the Romney-Ryan plan will end Medicare as we know it and turn Medicare into a voucher system. 47
Seniors prefer the Republican message by a 51-43 margin and Independents by a 54-40 margin.
– The Republican candidate who says that doctors are reducing the number of Medicare patients that they accept. This is proof that Medicare as it stands is unsustainable and has to be reformed, and the Republican plan will save the system for future generations while preserving benefits for those 55 and older. 49
– The Democrat candidate who says that the Romney-Ryan plan will end Medicare as we know it and turn Medicare into a voucher system. 44
Among seniors, that lead is slightly larger at 50-42. While most of these messages tested as a draw, a 5 point difference here is significant.
– The Republican candidate who says that President Obama cut $700 billion from Medicare for current seniors to fund his health care plan. 47
– The Democrat candidate who says that the Romney-Ryan plan will end Medicare as we know it and turn Medicare into a voucher system. 48
Again, this question resulted in a statistical draw as the Democratic message underperformed their current but historically low issue advantage of +6. More important, however, when we saw this message actually air, it forced the President to respond, and the survey shows his response has not been effective with voters nor has his argument been able to regain the traditional Democratic advantage on this issue. (39% believe and 54% don’t believe his assertion that his cuts will not reduce Medicare benefits.)
The memo also notes that “Seniors (36-56), and Independents (31-60) are even more skeptical of the President’s claims” with regard to the effect of his Medicare cuts.
The Winston Group survey was conducted between August 17 and 19, and has a margin of error of +/- 3.1 percent. The poll was of 1,000 registered (as opposed to likely) voters, one aspect that skeptics of Republicans’ ability to win on the Medicare issue may point to in disputing the survey’s findings.
The poll does not appear to have broken down sentiments regarding different messages by state, and it is possible that some messages could resonate better in particular areas than others. (For example, it is conceivable that voters in New York’s current 26th congressional district, where anti-Ryan plan advertising appeared to help deliver a win for the Democrat in last year’s special election, could be more receptive to Democratic messages about Medicare reform. Meanwhile, some Republican strategists contend that seniors in Nevada’s current 2nd congressional district were in 2011 won over by a candidate who explicitly supported the Ryan plan in part because of Republicans’ leveraging of a message focused on cuts built into Obamacare, supported by his Democratic opponent, as well as focusing on Obamacare’s Independent Payment Advisory Board).
Voter contact efforts that both the Romney-Ryan ticket and its supporters, and President Obama and his supporters, respectively, will engage in as November approaches are nowhere near their peak. That suggests there is still ground to be gained, and lost, on the Medicare issue over the next few weeks (and it’s worth remembering that the Ryan Medicare reform plan is still viewed unfavorably by many Americans, including many seniors; assuming Democrats succeed in tying the Ryan plan to the Republican ticket, work remains to be done).
Also worth bearing in mind is that, while the selection of Ryan by Romney has already caused more attention to be paid to the issue of entitlements (in itself a big win from fiscal conservatives’ standpoint), the election still appears more likely to turn on voters’ perceptions of the candidates’ ability to grow the economy and create jobs. The Winston Group survey shows that 66 percent of voters polled were more likely to vote for “the candidate who has a clear plan for economic growth and job creation,” whereas only 26 percent of voters polled would vote for “the candidate who says he or she will work to save the Medicare system.”
The bottom line, according to the memo, is that Winston’s “data showed there were a number of opportunities and challenges for both parties in the economic issue arena.” However, “For conservatives, their challenge is to shift back to the economic message while continuing to neutralize the Medicare issue.” Early indications are that Romney-Ryan intends to work hard at doing exactly that.