Election 2014  
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7 Reasons Why Romney-Ryan's Desperate Attempts to Spin Medicare Won't Work

Romney's team is trying to muddy the waters around Medicare, but they face an uphill climb.

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It's a story that conservatives have told ever since. In 1995, Bob Dole, the GOP's 1996 presidental nominee, bragged: “I was there, fighting the fight, voting against Medicare ... because we knew it wouldn’t work in 1965.” And today, seemingly every day, a conservative rails against the perfidy of “entitlements,” including Medicare. 

Here's why that's relevant. First, because that rhetoric has largely fallen on deaf ears -- Americans like Medicare, and by a two to one margin they say that it's worth the costs to maintain.

Second, while, again, the Romney team is trying to obscure the issues by saying that it's actually Obama who wants to “raid” Medicare, that's going to be a heavy lift because of a concept known as “issue owership.” Political scientist John Sides explained why “this will be an uphill battle for the GOP.”

Democrats are more trusted to handle the issue of Medicare. That is, they “own” the issue... To cite some more recent data, a February GW Battleground Poll found that 52% of respondents trusted Democrats to handle “Social Security and Medicare,” while 43% trusted Republicans. A June 2011 poll found that 47% of respondents had “more confidence” in the Democrats’ ability to handle Medicare, while 40% had more confidence in Republicans.

Second, although perceptions of which party owns an issue can change, they usually will not change during the short window of a campaign. Take 1988 for example. In this election, Michael Dukakis tried to emphasize national defense. George H.W. Bush emphasized jobs and declared that he would be the “education president.” Both were attempting to “trespass” on the other party’s territory. How’d that work out for them?

Voters tended to attribute Bush’s slogans and promises about education and jobs to Dukakis, and attribute Dukakis’s promises about national defense to Bush. They relied on stereotypes of issue ownership—“if someone wants to improve education, he must be a Democrat”—rather than pay attention to the specific promises of Bush and Dukakis. 

In other words, if the Romney team does manage to muddy the waters about who favors what, long-held perceptions about which party has opposed Medicare since even before it became law should give Democrats an edge.

Republicans have convinced themselves that the opposite is true, and this is based largely on a single data-point: Republicans ran ads in 2010 attacking Democrats for “raiding” Medicare, and they won big in the midterms. But that's a dubious claim because while those Medicare ads were part of the mix, they ran their campaign against the healthcare law and on the difficult economy, and they enjoyed a significant cash advantage. Since then, Democrats managed to win a series of special elections for House seats that they were expected to lose, and they did it running against Ryan's roadmap.

7. Context: Mitt's 1% Tax Bill Problem

Similarly, while we're talking about Medicare right now – and it will be a crucial issue throughout the election season for older Americans – that debate will ultimately be viewed through the lens of voters' larger perceptions about the candidates, and those perceptions are in turn shaped by an array of issues, from Romney's experience outsourcing jobs at Bain to Ryan's fringe views on abortion.

According to CBS' latest poll, “Sixty-four percent of all Americans, and 68% of independents, think Romney favors the rich over the middle class.” Only 18 percent say the same of Obama.

And that brings us to what may be the most significant number in the entire debate over Ryan's roadmap: if Ryan's plan were the law of the land, then according to the only tax return Mitt Romney has released (for 2010), Romney, sitting on a fortune estimated at over $200 million, would have paid an effective tax rate of just 0.82 percent. That's less than a tenth of the sales tax charged in New York City.

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