Voters 65 and older represent more than 22 percent of Florida's voting-age population—the highest percentage of any state. And as Medicare and Social Security play large roles in how swing states sway on Election Day, these residents undoubtedly shape the race for Florida's 29 electoral votes.
This week, Yahoo News asked seniors and others who are nearing retirement age in Florida to share their thoughts. Which candidate understands seniors' best interests? Who will protect entitlement programs not just for them, but for all generations? What other issues affect their votes?
Among the Florida seniors we surveyed, it's difficult to unearth any disagreement: They want Social Security solvency, Medicare safeguards and, in general, economic boosts.
But if you ask them who will do that more effectively—President Barack Obama or Republican challenger Mitt Romney—you unleash vociferous debate. Both candidates say they won't sacrifice entitlement programs, but seniors' support for particular strategies is scattered.
Here are excerpts from what a handful of Floridians wrote this week.
Jim Stillman moved to Florida from New York City more than 40 years ago because, as he says, "there would be no precipitation requiring a shovel." He worked four decades in the state's Department of Revenue and now lives with his wife in Lutz, a suburb north of Tampa.
The retired attorney says Medicare matters most to him because of a litany of medical care he's received: In the last two years, he's fallen and fractured his hip and pelvis, and he's broken his arm twice. In the last 18 months, he's been hospitalized for eight months, lived in two skilled nursing facilities, and received months of physical therapy. The tab: $650,000.
"Had it not been for Medicare, we would have faced financial ruin," Stillman, 78, writes.
He says a vote for Mitt Romney would jeopardize seniors in similar situations, mostly because Stillman ties the GOP nominee to the budget plan of his vice presidential running mate, Paul Ryan. "Rather than the defined benefit system," Stillman says, "a Ryan Medicare would be replaced by a voucher program, placing seniors at the mercy of private insurance companies."
Social issues color Stillman's vote, too: He says Romney and his party are hostile to women's rights, Planned Parenthood, contraception, equal pay for women and the separation of church and state.
"I believe Barack Obama should be re-elected," Stillman says. "First, in my personal life, I recognize and appreciate the economic and social safety net that has been in effect for more than eight decades; second, I do not believe the Republican Party shares that view. Mitt Romney has adopted the beliefs and prejudices of his party's right fringe."
Yael Eylat-Tanaka has crunched the numbers.
At 63, she's calculating whether she should retire early and take a less-than-full Social Security disbursement of $1,100 monthly. For each year she delays, she'll earn 8 percent more—better than a bank, she notes.
"I'd like to imagine that my part of the money is locked up somewhere, growing, albeit at a glacial pace, but still growing until I am ready to claim it," the medical transcriptionist in Tampa writes.
Eylat-Tanaka and her husband, 72, have an IRA and a 401(k) between them to assist in retirement, but Social Security, she says, would represent a significant supplement. She acknowledges that both Romney and Obama have reassured seniors that Social Security is safe. But she's voting the GOP ticket because of Obamacare, which she believes will harm Medicare. More Americans, she predicts, will opt to pay a penalty in lieu of mandated insurance and pre-existing condition coverage will increase prices.
"Obama would have Americans believe our insurance premiums will be reduced with his plan," she writes, "and that simply is insulting to my intelligence."
Further, she says she's appalled at the debt and worries that Romney is right when he says Obama is pushing the country toward a Greece-like future.
"My vote will go for the promise of a new day," Eylat-Tanaka says.
The reasons 60-year-old Pearl Grace backs Obama read like a to-do list: Women's issues, Social Security, national health care, green energy, tax incentives and more.
At the top of her list is Medicare: "In six years, I'll apply for Medicare. After paying employment taxes for 40-plus years, I want Medicare to be there. Obama's my best chance."
She praises Obama on Social Security and knocks Romney: "When Romney speaks of a voucher system, I'm uncomfortable."
She dubs women's issues a "no-brainer," especially for female voters: "I certainly wouldn't vote for anyone who believes men should have access to erection-enhancing medications through health care but women should not have access to contraceptives."
And on national health care: "All Americans deserve health care."
Her focus, she says, is solidly on the middle class and worries that Romney truly believes his own comments about 47 percent of Americans.
"It's unfair we pay taxes at 23 percent to 28 percent while someone who makes millions annually pays 14 percent," she says. "His words demonstrate he doesn't understand or care about individuals who, through no fault of their own, are unable to support themselves. Adults with cerebral palsy, limb paralysis or severe mental illness, for example, require government assistance to survive. What would Romney have them do?"
Where Ronald Reagan succeeded, Obama failed, says Carl Sandburg, 65.
Compare the nation's current malaise to the early '80s, advises Sandburg. Both American economies stalled. But it was Reagan's policies of cutting taxes and creating incentives for small businesses, he says, that sparked recovery. Sandburg says he wishes Obama had mirrored that policy, specifically the Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981.
"When Obama took office, with the economy on the ropes, he focused on Obamacare," the energy-industry retiree writes. "Never before have I seen a leader so completely turn his back on the economy of the country and fiddle with pet projects that, at best, only serve to make the economic situation worse."
Sandburg, of the Jacksonville suburb Green Cove Springs, supports Romney because he says his ideas will move the economy.
"It's all linked: Growth means a better economy, which means a healthier Medicare and brighter future for Social Security," Sandburg says. Like many seniors, he relies on a variety of retirement accounts: an IRA, a pension, and Social Security. The latter, he argues, will benefit from a Romney presidency.
"The way I see it, if Romney is successful at growing the economy, tax revenues will increase and the deficit will decrease. In this way the economy can grow its way out of the deficit situation much like it did under Reagan," he says. "This way, Medicare and Social Security stand a much better chance of survival."
Obamacare undoubtedly sours some voters. But, for others, it's the reason to re-elect the president.
Health care is of prime importance to 55-year-old Allison Waldman a freelance writer and author who is fighting cancer.
"I have struggled for years to keep up the payments for health care insurance," Waldman writes. "The premiums for years went up and up, but not anymore. I used to pay nearly $1,000 a month; I'm now paying $600. It's still a lot, but it's better than it was."
She says she once admired Romney for his similar plan in Massachusetts, calling him a moderate Republican. But since running for and winning the GOP nomination, she says he "has rejected the seminal work of his political career."
"How can I believe anything he says now about what he'll do in the future when he won't stand by his past?" Waldman asks.
In Florida, she says the importance of Medicare and Social Security is undeniable. Specifically, she cites her mother, who depended on both before her death two years ago: "My mother was not an isolated case; there are thousands just like her, especially here in South Florida."
Don't cut benefits to fix the debt, she argues; instead, target unnecessary wars and weapons, and tax the top 1 percent more.
All prices have risen for 77-year-old Rick Testut. What's not keeping pace, he says, are his Social Security checks.
"No sooner do I think I'm ahead of the game than do pump prices skyrocket," the Seminole County resident writes. "That cuts deeply and is hurtful."
His solution is simple: Elect Romney.
"I believe he has the courage, discipline, proven business acumen and know-how to get our country back on track," Testut says.
He favors Romney because he believes he will lower prices through more aggressive domestic energy production, take China to task for currency manipulation and promote a sensible and legal immigration policy.
"It's time for a change at the helm," Testut says. "I urge you to realize that, too."
- Politics & Government
- Health Care Policy
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- Barack Obama
- Mitt Romney