Mediscare, it seems to be working

Seniors in Florida, Ohio, and Virginia strongly oppose what they take to be the Romney-Ryan position on Medicare, according to polling by the Washington Post and Kaiser Family Foundation. More than 70 percent of seniors in these states say they favor keeping Medicare as a program with guaranteed benefits, rather than moving to a system in which the government provides fixed payments with which to purchase coverage. And in Florida, 65 percent of all voters favor the current approach.

According to the Post, Obama’s edge on the Medicare issue is eating into Romney’s support among older voters, one of the main groups that favors him. The Medicare issue also helps offset the hit the president takes due to the continuing unpopularity of Obamacare.

The Romney campaign pushed back against the poll, noting that respondents were not told that Romney has promised not to change Medicare for people over the age of 55. But that complaint suggests the campaign has failed to communicate this fact to voters.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Romney hoped to have “an adult conversation” with the American public about Medicare. In fact, he brought the issue to the fore by selecting Paul Ryan — the man who came up with the Medicare reform proposal Romney supports — as his running mate. If the Post’s polling is correct, the strategy isn’t working. Instead, Obama’s slogans — e.g., that Romney and Ryan would “turn Medicare into a voucher program to pay for tax cuts for the very wealthy” — seem to be carrying the day.

Because Obama’s Medicare edge rests on a misperception about how Romney’s approach will affect current seniors, it may be possible for him to turn things around. But Romney and Ryan have been battling that misperception for more than a month without apparent success.

Team Romney would no doubt rather spend the next five-plus weeks playing offense, as opposed to reiterating a largely defensive position that apparently has failed to take hold. But it may not have that luxury.