Social Security and the 2014 Midterm Elections

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1 50 Virginia Policy Review Social Security and the 2014 Midterm Elections Jasmine Jefferson Introduction Election season is upon us and with a strong Republican majority in the United States House of Representatives and a Democratic White House, all eyes are on the United States Senate. Democrats have a slim majority in the upper house, and the Republicans are six seats away from a full takeover of the entire legislature. The results of the 2014 elections will define the final legacy of the Obama Administration and set the stage for the 2016 presidential election. During this midterm election candidates will tactfully consider several issues to use as the basis for their political platform. There are numerous controversial topics to choose from this election cycle including the war on terror, the Affordable Care Act, as well as equal pay. Candidates pick platforms for a variety of reasons; they want to pick topics they are passionate about, an issue they can identify with, and also a platform that inspires voters to support them. Mainstream Democrats fear that, like other midterm elections, voter turnout will significantly decrease. 1 Low voter turnout typically gives Republicans an advantage. 2 The Republican base, composed of conservatives and older voters, is often more enthusiastic and more engaged during these elections. 3 Rightfully, the Democratic National Committee is making efforts to tackle the expected low 1 Drew DeSilver, Voter Turnout Always Drops off for Midterm Elections, but Why? Pew Research Center, July 24, 2014, 2 GOP Has Midterm Engagement Advantage, Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, July 24, 2014, 3 Ibid.

2 Virginia Policy Review 51 voter turnout through a national media campaign targeted at voters of color, who boosted the Obama campaign to victory twice. 4 Strategic investments in voter turnout campaigns are important, but in order for the Democrats to maintain their majority in the Senate, candidates must create a platform that includes protecting and increasing Social Security benefits. Recent polling by Social Security Works (SSW) and the Center for Community Change Action (CCC) demonstrates the public s strong support for the Social Security system. Seventy-nine percent of survey participants support expanding Social Security benefits by requiring that wealthy Americans pay the same tax rate into Social Security as everyone else. The data also suggests that nearly twothirds of American voters are more likely to vote for their member of Congress if he or she voted for increasing Social Security benefits and seventy percent of voters would be likely to vote against their member of Congress for voting to cut benefits. 5 A political platform involving Social Security expansion takes the Democrats off the edge and over into the Senate majority for another two years. Social Security The Social Security system stands as a societal pillar and testament to our nation s value for hard work in America for nearly eighty years. Signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1935, Social Security is a social insurance program that protects American laborers and their families from any permanent declines in income stemming from retirement, disability, or death. The compulsory nature of this insurance program makes it one of the most successful in American history. "Diana Ozemebhoya Eromosele, Dems Roll Out New 7-Figure Ad Campaign Ahead of Midterms, The Root, September 15, 2014, onal_media_buy.html. 5 Center for Community Change Action & Social Security Works, National Survey, August 22, 2014,

3 52 Virginia Policy Review In 2013, 58 million Americans received Social Security benefits. 6 Social Security also lifted 22 million Americans, including 1 million children, out of poverty in It is likely that nearly every American knows someone who receives Social Security or plans to receive Social Security. Unlike many other government programs, citizens feel a personal attachment to Social Security, because often they are the person they expect to receive benefits. Workers earn their Social Security benefits through the Federal Insurance Contributions Act payroll taxes. When workers become disabled, retire, or pass away they or their dependents become eligible to receive their previous investment back based on how much they invested. Low-income workers receive the smallest benefits, and as workers salaries increase their future benefit also increases. Another unique aspect to note is the bipartisan appeal of Social Security; it is important for families regardless of socioeconomic status, race, or political party affiliation. Polling shows that Social Security has strong support from a significant number of voters representing all political parties. Ninety percent of Democrats and nearly three-quarters of Independents and Republicans support Social Security. 8 These numbers demonstrate Americans desire for Social Security s retirement fund, survivor s insurance, and disability insurance programs. They also reveal that in order for elected officials to truly represent all of their constituents, they must commit to supporting and strengthening Social Security. 6 U.S. Social Security Administration, Total Beneficiaries: Table 5.J2 Number, by State or Other Area, Program, and Type of Benefit, December 2013, July 2014, U.S. Census Bureau, Annual Estimates of the Resident Population for Selected Age Groups by Sex for the United States, States, Counties, and Puerto Rico Commonwealth and Municipios: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2012, Amiercan Fact Finder, n.d., 7 Paul N. Van de Water, Arloc Sherman, and Kathy Ruffing, Social Security Keeps 22 Million Americans Out Of Poverty: A State-By-State Analysis, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, October 25, 2013, 8 Center for Community Change Action & Social Security Works, National Survey.

4 Social Security in the Primary Elections Virginia Policy Review 53 Several political candidates took advantage of a Social Securitycentered platform during the primary races in early For example, in Hawaii during the August Senate Democratic primary Senator Brian Schatz continuously ran campaign advertisements on Social Security expansion. His opponent, a Hawaiian Congresswomen and also a supporter of Social Security, only highlighted her efforts to protect Social Security rather than expand Social Security. While the Social Security expansion narrative is not the sole reason for Senator Schatz s victory in Hawaii, he can attribute much of his success to his explicit support of expanding the system. Senator Mark Begich of Alaska is another candidate who won the Democratic primary while promoting a Social Security expansion agenda more progressive than his opponents. Looking Forward Polling continuously fluctuates between favoring Republicans and Democrats. It appears that the November elections will be decided by a slim margin. Democratic candidates in states such as Alaska, Arkansas, Iowa, Michigan, Louisiana, North Carolina, and Maine must distinguish themselves from their Republican opponents and run campaigns that emphasize maintaining and expanding Social Security. Social Security is a dependable system with backing from all demographics in America. When voters head to the polls on November 4, 2014, they should feel that the candidate they select will truly represent and maintain their best interests. Data show that Social Security is an important issue that will push Democrats ahead in the polls and on Election Day.

5 54 Virginia Policy Review Beyond Election Day, Social Security should stand as one issue that a potentially divided Congress can rally around, protect, and strengthen. Regardless of who controls the legislature, there is great respect for our Social Security system throughout America. Representatives should find themselves in line with their constituents, advocating for a strengthened and expanded Social Security system. Jasmine Jefferson is currently the Legislative Associate at Social Security Works, a non-profit dedicated to strengthening and expanding Social Security. Jasmine is a 2012 graduate of the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy and a 2011 graduate of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Virginia.

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