OPINION: Is the GOP Losing Seniors?

August 13 2013, 11:20 AM

The Republican party nationwide and in Colorado has weathered numerous ups and downs over the past few years—some due to outside forces, others self inflicted—but one thing it's always been able to count on is its strong support among senior citizens.

Now, a Democratic-sponsored national poll raises the question of whether the GOP's stalwart base has begun to abandon its party. As reported last week in the National Journal, the poll of about 840 of 2014's likely voters showed that the 65-plus crowd now views Democrats more favorably than Republicans by a margin of 40-28 percent. Just two years ago, those numbers were 43-37 in favor of the GOP.

Chief among the suspected reasons for this dramatic shift is the feeling among seniors that Republicans have become too extreme and overplayed their obstructionist hand in the United States Congress. There's also a growing sense that more draconian austerity remedies for dealing with the national budget deficit—particularly the Paul Ryan-proposed plan to reduce Medicare spending—is terrifying seniors who would be most affected by such cutbacks.

This isn't to say Democrats suddenly own the geriatric set. Seniors are still leaning toward voting Republican in 2014 by a margin of 46-41, and there are plenty of issues on which they clearly skew to the right. But that gap was 21 points in 2010. These folks are old and wise enough to remember a time when maintaining dignity and a willingness to compromise were two hallmarks of principled conservatism. Whether it's accurate or not, the blame for our current crisis in D.C. has tended to rest on the party that's spent every minute since January 20, 2009, throwing out and rewriting its political playbook, and now seniors seem to be increasingly fed up with this nihilistic approach.

What worked fairly well for the GOP in the 2010 midterm elections flat out imploded in 2012. Since then, despite paying occasional lip service to the forces of comity, the GOP has done little to alter its tack on social issues, gun control, immigration, or governing in general. Among the party's latest intractabilities: The men most often cited as the party's 2016 presidential frontrunners have loudly embraced the willingness to shut down the federal government in order to defund Obamacare, even though they have no ability to actually do this, nor have they offered a viable health care replacement plan. (Free-market fantasies don't qualify.)

This bizarro world of politics is in full-play here in Colorado, where Democratic Senator Mark Udall and Governor John Hickenlooper could be quite vulnerable in 2014. Even so, the state GOP thus far hasn't responded to the opportunity by backing aisle-crossing dealmakers. Instead, it's promoted, among others, the hyperpartisan Scott Gessler and Greg Brophy, along with hyperconservative retreads Ken Buck, Tom Tancredo, and Randy Baumgardner, to vie for these positions in a state that's getting less red all the time.

Before they wade too deeply into this swamp and set themselves back another election cycle or two, GOP leaders may want to heed one of the other hallmark principles of conservatism—and respect their elders.

—Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Follow 5280 articles editor Luc Hatlestad on Twitter at @LucHatlestad.