Romney-Ryan are trying to convince voters Democrats hurt Medicare. It probably won’t work.

Since House Republican Paul Ryan was picked as Mitt Romney’s running mate, the two men and their surrogates have been trying to defend themselves from the fact that the Ryan plan would massively change Medicare and lead to reduced coverage.

In doing so, they’ve gone after Obama, saying that Obamacare hurts Medicare. Although that’s not true — see Politifact’s write-up ranking it as False — Romney and Ryan would like to convince voters it is.

Given what research shows about party images and voters’ thinking, this probably won’t work.

This is because people trust Democrats more than Republicans on health care. Moreover, Democrats are seen as more supportive of government health care programs than Republicans.

The first — trust — is an impression, an opinion.

The second — is based on track records — with ample evidence that, in fact, Democrats support government health care programs more than Republicans. For instance:

  1. Democrats created Medicare and Medicaid.
  2. President Clinton, a Democrat, tried to pass comprehensive health care reform.
  3. President Obama, another Democrat, did pass health reform.

There is a case involving a Republican who championed a new government health care program. This was President George W. Bush and he passed a new prescription drug benefit.

Still, in general, Republicans have been far more likely to oppose government health care programs than to support them — and certainly have been less supportive of these than Democrats. Obamacare is just the most recent example.

Voters typically have pictures of each political party that can change a bit, but which are relatively stable. One aspect of these party images involves Democrats’ greater support of government health care programs and Republicans’ lesser support. These images exist whether or not one supports existing programs.

In asking voters to believe that Obama and Democrats are the ones who are anti-Medicare while Republicans are the ones that want to “preserve” it (language, by the way, developed by Republicans back in the days when Newt Gingrich was Speaker of the House), well, this is a tough political play to pull off. It didn’t even work in Gingrich’s day.

By the way, Republicans remain sensitive about language.  As Politico just reported:

“Do not say: ‘entitlement reform,’ ‘privatization,’ ‘every option is on the table,’” the National Republican Congressional Committee said in an email memo. “Do say: ‘strengthen,’ ‘secure,’ ‘save,’ ‘preserve, ‘protect.’”

But using certain words only goes so far when voters already have stable images of the parties that include the parties’ views of health care, images based on over five decades of experience.

Consider these reactions from political professionals:

Politico interviewed several dozen Republican strategists, most of whom would speak only off the record. Their view: Democrats have the advantage on Medicaid. Thus “Romney has taken a risk with Ryan that has only a modest chance of going right — and a huge chance of going horribly wrong.”

And what about congressional races?  In The Hill, a Republican strategist says, “[T]they’re going to battle out who’s going to kill grandma first, ObamaCare or Paul Ryan’s budget.” And the likely result? “There are a lot races that are close to the line we’re not going to win now . . . It could put the Senate out of reach. In the House it puts a bunch of races in play that would have otherwise been safe.”

Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.