Ask the Expert: Dr. Christopher Parker

What was one thing that impacted the 2012 presidential election that you did not expect?

The most surprising feature of the 2012 election has been the focus on Medicare reform, and in particular, that Republicans have initiated the debate. Medicare is an extremely popular government program, and as the party representing limited government ideals and curbing social spending, the Republican Party is usually vulnerable to attacks based on Medicare.

The Republican Party in the past has proposed reforms that use a voucher system for Medicare or privatize Social Security, but these have generally not been received well. These proposals have also typically taken the form of Congressional bills rather than election year platform planks. Elderly voters turn out at very high rates, and voters in general are very risk averse when it comes to altering social services. This is why Medicare and especially Social Security (which has been virtually ignored in all the talk about government spending and the deficit) have been “third rail” issues in American politics.

Romney and the Republicans seem to be trying to capitalize on voter dissatisfaction with Obamacare by pointing out how the health care reform will affect Medicare spending. However, given Paul Ryan’s support for the same Medicare reforms and the Romney/Ryan plan to eventually turn Medicare into a voucher system, this is a very risky tactic. While the Romney ticket has repeatedly tried to assure elderly voters that nothing about Medicare will change for those over the age of 55, they are still in danger of alienating elderly voters who make up a key demographic in the important swing state of Florida. Given President Obama’s vulnerability on economic issues, it is surprising that the Republicans have been so willing to make an issue that has long been a strength for Democrats a major focus of this campaign.

Dr. Christopher Parker is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Centenary.