Content starts here

When It Comes to Campaign Issues, the Devil Is in the Details

One thing that really bugs me about political campaigns - especially presidential campaigns - is how little the candidates tell us about what, if elected, they would really try to do about specific issues.

Take Social Security and Medicare, for example. It's easy to say - as President Obama, Mitt Romney and many congressional candidates do - that you want to protect these programs for current and future generations. It's a whole other thing to spell out exactly how you intend to do it.

I have a lot of company in my frustration. An AARP survey released August 8th reveals that roughly two-thirds of registered voters age 50 and older think the candidates haven't done a good job of explaining their plans for keeping Social Security and Medicare financial sound.

But just when I'm feeling in good company comes an opinion piece by Greg Sargent at the Washington Post about the results of a recent Hofstra University poll. Titled "Americans hate government, but they love Medicare, Social Security, and environmental regulations," the piece riffs on the apparently conflicted views of suburban voters. There's no age breakdown of Hofstra's poll results, but the 2010 U.S. Census found that 40 percent of suburbanites were age 45 and older.

From the Hofstra poll:

  • While 72 percent want to cut federal spending, 87 percent don't want to cut Social Security or Medicare benefits and 56 percent don't want to cut defense spending.
  • 56 percent support reducing personal income taxes on all Americans; at the same time, 60 percent support raising personal income taxes on wealthier Americans.

And that, I'm reluctant to admit, is when I start to feel some of a candidate's pain. When you know that so many people will run any proposal through their own conflicting filters, only the most daring will offer the devilish details. Better to keep your plans safely vague, suggesting that the specifics can come in time. In the meantime, you can accuse your opponent of cutting Medicare or planning to gut it even as you decry government spending.

It's all part of the game, isn't it? -Susan Milligan

Search AARP Blogs