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Obama vs. Romney: Strategies to Capture Critical Boomers in Battleground States

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Middle-aged and older adults living in battleground or "swing states" represent 41.90 percent of the population in those states. So the 2012 presidential contest may swing on choices made by undecided Baby Boomers and older voters in just ten states.

Battleground states include Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, North Carolina and Florida. Swing states are critical to the outcome of the electoral vote -- and election of the next U.S. president -- as disparate as these states may be geographically and historically.

The two presidential campaigns are already carpet-bombing states with advertising where neither candidate has a comfortable majority of voters. President Barack Obama has probably secured 212 electors in blue states; presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has secured 191 electors in red states. Thus, Obama needs 58 more electors, and Romney needs 79 to reach the winning goal of 270 electoral votes. Both need boldness and out-of-the-box thinking about older voters. In ten swing states, 122 undecided Electoral College votes are waiting.

Age groups tend to "vote their age," amplifying the impact of older voters. According to the Current Population Survey by the United State Census Bureau: "Voting and registration rates tend to increase with age. In the United States in 2010, only 21 percent of 18-to 24-year old citizens voted, compared with 61 percent of those 65 and older."

In recent weeks, candidates have received impassioned advice from advocates for Latinos, LGBT communities, and blue-collar workers. While prudent policymakers will embrace these groups in their campaign narratives, an even more crucial voter segment is in play.

Nobody doubts that America today is politically divided among all age segments, with voters spread across a spectrum from liberal to conservative. Advancing age does not necessarily cause voters to agree on major issues.

However, older voters have some transcendent problems of unique concern, informed by generational affiliation and current life circumstances, thus inviting attention when campaigns craft and target advertising.

The candidates already understand that key issues such as Social Security and healthcare costs are of wide concern -- and frequently hot-button issues. They are test-driving messages that focus on these touchy areas, which can cause undecided voters to vacillate between parties and even chase away base voters.

Thus, addressing less obvious voter concerns could become a differentiating and winning strategic focus, just as George W. Bush convinced "security moms" that his national security strategy was their primary salvation during the 2006 campaign. Here are of a few issues that have the attention of older voters in 2012:

Assisting with eldercare

Only one U.S. citizen has the privilege of taking care of his mother-in-law in the White House. The rest of us must improvise.

A recent Bureau of Labor Statistics report revealed that roughly 40 million Americans provide unpaid care to one or more people at least 65 years old. Caregivers tend to skew over 50, caring for even older parents and grandparents.

In their youth, Boomers+ made childcare programs mainstream in the private and public sectors. They are now attentive to the needs of the nation's frail and oldest old.

Costs, risks and demands of caregiving frustrate the lives of undecided voters, so the candidate who effectively addresses and proposes strategies to help caregivers will reach a beleaguered and appreciative electorate.

Significant policy proposals around eldercare will be especially attractive to women voters who constitute the majority of caregivers (56 percent).

Reducing price of education

According to Steve Odland in his article for Forbes, "Since 1985, the overall consumer price index has risen 115 percent while the college education inflation rate has risen nearly 500 percent."

Reducing the cost of higher education is vitally important to all age groups and certainly for Boomer+ voters, who often pay the bills for their children and grandchildren.

Returning World War II veterans received the Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944, significantly to prevent a relapse into the Great Depression. Over two million veterans used GI Bill benefits to attend college. Over six million relied upon the benefits for other training programs.

Today's war is also worldwide: it's called American global competitiveness. Thus, candidates can propose policies and programs that will help younger and older students reduce and manage costs to pursue education, hopefully preventing a relapse into the Great Recession.

Fostering reinvention

Today's Boomer+ voter is considering career 2.0 as a choice or necessity. Reinvention is in the air. Thus, a community organizer becomes a U.S. president, and a private equity investor becomes a governor and then presidential candidate.

Later life reinvention has been recently underscored with research conducted by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation:

For 11 of the 15 years from 1996 to 2010, Americans between the ages of 55 and 64 had the highest rate of entrepreneurial activity of any age group. Twice as many founders of U.S. technology companies were over age 50 as were 25 or younger.

Boomers and older generational segments are remaining engaged -- a fact demonstrated recently by former Beatle Ringo Starr. At age 72, Ringo is almost as busy banging buckets today as he was during the reign of the Fab Four in the 1960s, with a new album and tour underway.

Ringo's peers intend to rock on rather than rock away their sunset years. Tax incentives for start-up businesses and assistance with encore careers will be especially appealing to men 55+ who have been the vanguard of entrepreneurial ventures.

In ten battleground states, undecided Boomers and older generations are waiting for presidential candidates to address immediate concerns, which increasingly include taking care of mom and dad, educating offspring without selling the house to pay for it, and reinventing careers for a long, strange trip ahead.