In the run-up to the 2010 mid-term Tea Party “shellacking”, Republicans artfully exploited vague fears about the national debt and the role of government in healthcare, and received outsized influence in the 112th Congress due to low turnout among younger voters. According to a George Mason University study, “young” voters made up 18 percent of the electorate in 2008 and 12 percent of the electorate in 2010, while “old” voters constituted 15 percent of the electorate in 2008 and 21 percent of the electorate in 2010. This played to the GOP’s advantage, the report’s author Associate Professor, Dr. Michael P. McDonald, concluded:

The lower turnout rate among young people was thus a contributing factor to Republican successes in winning a net 63 seats to the House of Representatives in 2010 compared to the Democratic victories for President, House, and Senate just two years earlier.

But in 2014, after years of harping on “entitlement” reform, Republicans might be less able to take advantage of young voters’ historical apathy toward mid-term elections. As the New York Times reported in October, Paul Ryan still “has immense credibility with conservatives for his ‘Path to Prosperity’ budget, which proposed politically risky Medicare changes and deep tax cuts.” In recent weeks, Ryan has been pushing for the forthcoming debt ceiling increase to be tied to, in the Center for Economic and Policy Research Center’s words, asking “seniors to pay more money for their health care.”

Well, grandma is pissed, and Ryan’s colleagues are quivering in fear at the prospect of having to run against her, as a Bloomberg report published this week detailed. Jeff Sessions distanced himself from Medicare and Social Security cuts. Mark Pryor just launched a campaign ad attacking his likely opponent, Tom Cotton, “for voting to ‘cut Social Security’ and ‘turn Medicare into a voucher system.’” Powerful influence peddlers and D.C. insiders are all too aware of the senior voting bloc’s might:

Lawmakers are “terrified” of the pro-seniors lobby, said Steve Bell, a former Senate Republican budget adviser.

“They have everybody on warning all the time,” said Bell, now with the Bipartisan Policy Center, a nonprofit based in Washington. “The 30-second commercial of you pushing grandma in her wheelchair over the cliff is ready to go.”


“The opponents on the other side have had a bigger voice,” R. Bruce Josten, the top lobbyist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said in June.

Pity the poor Chamber of Commerce. But unlike in 2010, Republicans have rallied behind a clear alternative vision to non-existent death panels–one that causes Tea Party voters themselves to recoil, when quizzed about the specifics.

If the GOP continues to exalt Ryanite ideas, it’s likely that they’ll lose seats. If they don’t, the consequences of a strong GOP showing will be less severe for seniors. Either way, a 2014 “shellacking” of “big government” doesn’t appear likely at this juncture.

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Samuel Knight is a freelance journalist living in DC and a former intern at the Washington Monthly.