En español | Independents are the single largest voting bloc in New Hampshire, and 9 in 10 women age 50 and older who do not belong to either the Democratic or the Republican party say they probably will vote in the Feb. 11 primary, according to the results of a new AARP poll.
“The independents in the second-oldest state in the nation will be the deciders in the election in New Hampshire,” says Todd Fahey, AARP’s New Hampshire state director, referring to the state’s median age. He points out that 42 percent of the state’s voters are not affiliated with a party. Among all the women 50-plus who were surveyed, 80 percent said they expect to vote in the primary.
“The numbers show a level of engagement that is very telling,” Fahey says. “They are consistent with our tradition” of many New Hampshire voters getting the chance to see candidates up close and personal.
The survey also shows an overall dissatisfaction with national leaders (32 percent favorable for the president) but strong support for state (77 percent) and local (76 percent) elected officials. The results indicate “a growing dissatisfaction with the toxicity in Washington and a much higher affinity towards local government,” says Tawny Saez, a senior strategist for The Harris Poll, which conducted the survey for AARP.
The New Hampshire poll is the third in AARP’s “She’s the Difference” series, which is taking the pulse of voters in a number of states during the 2020 election season. Harris surveyed 751 female registered voters age 50 and over in New Hampshire from Dec. 5 to Dec. 25. (See the results of the first national survey and the poll of Iowa women voters.)
Here’s a look at some of the other key findings of this survey.
1. New Hampshire women want experience
“There’s certainly a cry for help,” Fahey says. “I think voters are looking for experienced and trusted leadership. It’s definitely a search for outstanding leaders, not just outstanding politicians.”
While those polled said they would prefer to vote for an experienced candidate (49 percent) over one who brings a fresh perspective (38 percent), independents are “still largely weighing their options in terms of what leadership attributes they prefer in a candidate,” Saez says. Among independents surveyed, 43 percent want experience and 39 percent prefer a fresh perspective when it comes to solving the important issues facing the country.
2. Support strong for female leadership
Women’s response to a question about welcoming a female candidate, Saez says, “comes down to gender equality as an aspiration as well as a gravitation to female values.” Of the women polled, 87 percent said people pay too much attention to what divides rather than what unites Americans, and 73 percent said Americans have more in common than they do differences.
Most people connect female leadership attributes with compassion, understanding and empathy, and male leadership with values of power and aggressiveness, Saez says. In the current environment, she adds, the women polled seem to be looking for the softer values that can counteract the current strong sense of toxicity and alienation around government.
3. Health care is most important issue
Health care was cited as the top issue facing the country by 44 percent of those polled, well ahead of the environment (33 percent), immigration (26 percent) and terrorism (20 percent). More than a third of all 50-plus women voters in New Hampshire (36 percent) gave their elected officials an “F” when it comes to how they’ve dealt with the cost of health care and prescription drugs.
“What many people don’t realize is that prescription drug costs are also very expensive for people in retirement,” says Fahey. “Even if they are on Medicare, many are still on fixed incomes — and while their incomes are fixed, costs continue to go up, especially for prescription drugs.”
A strong majority of those polled (69 percent) said they knew someone who didn’t have health insurance, and 50 percent of those who are worried about finances in retirement say it’s because their health care costs are so high. Saez suggests that women’s willingness to risk going without health insurance may reflect their need to spend money on food and other basics or to take care of children and other loved ones. There may also be a lack of awareness about what options they have in signing up for health care.
A majority (52 percent) also said that the number one reason for rising health costs is that drug companies charge too much for medications.
4. Women give leaders failing grades on key issues
In addition to health care costs, two issues particularly stand out for New Hampshire women: the opioid crisis and the high cost of a college education. New Hampshire has the second-highest rate of opioid-related overdose deaths in the nation, and the state’s college graduates carry the third-highest student debt burden in the U.S.
“We have a raging opioid problem, and certainly the opioid epidemic is probably on an equal footing with health care generally,” Fahey says. In addition, a majority of New Hampshire young people stay in the state for college, and tuition at schools in the state is among the highest in the nation.
5. New Hampshire women anxious about the future
Though 83 percent of the women 50 and over polled said they think their generation has done good things for the country, 85 percent also worry about the world they are leaving behind for their children and grandchildren. “They know their vote is about more than them,” Fahey says. “It’s a vote for future generations and their well-being.”
Saez says the concern women have for future generations also reflects “older women’s roles in society and in their communities as the mother, caregiver, the chief health care officer. They are trained to think about other people’s welfare” and will be thinking about how their vote will affect future generations when they cast their ballots.