BOISE - Idaho seniors have been hit hard by the recession, their incomes are low, their living costs are rising - and they’re very, very likely to vote.
That’s the picture that emerges from a new survey commissioned by the AARP Idaho, which described Idahoans over age 50 as “the most powerful vote in Idaho.”
The seniors group is launching statewide voter education efforts that will include asking its members which issues matter most to them, and laying out the candidates’ positions in voter guides for every congressional, statewide and state legislative race this year. Idaho’s primary election is May 25.
“What we’re saying is, look, this is the largest voting demographic in the state - you need to be cognizant of the issues that matter the most to them, and we certainly hope you’re paying attention to their voice and their concerns on election day and once you get into office,” said David Irwin, AARP Idaho spokesman.
Jim Weatherby, Boise State University political scientist emeritus, said, “They typically vote in greater numbers than do other age groups, and with health care being a major issue in these last few months, I would expect that they would continue to vote at their typical rates or even higher, perhaps.”
He added, “They share the general anxiety I think people are feeling about the economy and the direction of the country.”
The AARP’s survey found large numbers of independents among Idaho seniors: 37 percent said they think of themselves as independents, 29 percent said Republicans and 17 percent said Democrats. The last BSU Public Policy Survey found 40 percent of Idahoans overall identifying themselves as Republicans, 28 percent as independents and 25 percent as Democrats.
The seniors responding to the survey also mostly identified themselves as conservative - 53 percent - while just 26 percent said they were moderate and 8 percent liberal.
When it came to voting, 60 percent said they always vote, and another 23 percent said they vote most of the time, for a total of 83 percent voting most of the time. That compares to a statewide voter turnout in Idaho’s last general election - a big presidential election year - of just 77 percent of registered voters.
The survey, conducted in late 2009 but just released Tuesday, asked 406 Idaho Social Security recipients to answer a series of questions about their economic well-being as well as their political leanings. More than a third said the value of their retirement savings and investments had dropped in the past year; 71 percent said their cost of living had increased; and 97 percent said their monthly Social Security check is important to their monthly budgets. Only 5 percent had annual household income of $75,000 or more; 43 percent said their household income was less than $30,000.
The poll, conducted from Nov. 28 to Dec. 5, 2009 by the national AARP research office, has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percent.
Irwin said the Idaho AARP combined the poll with its own research on Idaho voter registration and voting activity to determine that 56 percent of all Idaho voters will be 50 or older this year.
“Ninety-three percent of all registered voters over the age of 50 actually voted - that’s astounding,” Irwin said. “They’re ready to flex that great muscle on election day again. We hope that legislators … and candidates are listening loud and clear to what their concerns are.”