Oh my: Romney/Ryan lead on Medicare in Florida and Ohio?

An important addendum to Ed’s CBS/NYT number-crunch from lefty Greg Sargent:

The breakdown sent over by CBS:

* In Florida, 48 percent of seniors say Romney would do a better job on Medicare, versus 44 percent who say that about Obama (the Ryan pick was supposed to be particularly problematic in this state).

* In Ohio, 49 percent of seniors say Romney would do a better job on Medicare, versus 43 percent who say that about Obama.

* In Wisconsin, 49 percent say Obama would do a better job on Medicare, versus 46 percent who say that about Romney. Close.

What’s striking is that the poll also finds very big majorities of seniors in all three states support leaving Medicare as it is, while small minorities support changing it so government provides fixed amounts to spend on insurance.

Follow the link for the numbers on those majorities. Three possibilities here, none of which is exclusive of the others. One: Like Sargent says, seniors are a solidly Republican demographic generally these days. The whole point of Democratic Mediscare tactics is to cut into that advantage, but maybe they’re underestimating how committed seniors have become to the GOP. They’re not single-issue voters, as entitlement politics tends to presume; they’re socially conservative too, and the Democrats have been drifting away from them on that for years. It’s not that Mediscare won’t work, in other words, it’ll just be harder to make a dent than anyone thought because Romney/Ryan is getting a partisan benefit of the doubt.

Two: Ryan’s message about needing to reform Medicare to save it is penetrating. That would be fabulous if true, as that’s the core benefit of having him on the ticket — driving the idea into Americans’ skulls that if they really love their “social safety net” programs as much as they seem to, they’d better be prepared to tinker with the mechanics soon before the gears start flying off. Even if Obama wins the election, it’ll be a consolation prize that Mitt and Paul were able to sound the alarm about that with the incredible megaphone that a presidential campaign provides. The point here is that if seniors have been convinced by Ryan that it’s fiscally impossible to preserve Medicare precisely “as it is” long-term, then they may conclude that a thoughtful reform plan is the best chance to keep it close to as-is, which in turn explains Florida’s and Ohio’s preference for the GOP on this issue.

Three, because I’m an eeyore: What if we’re looking at the wrong demographic? The theory all along has been that seniors will be the first to freak out if liberal Mediscaring starts to bite. But I’m not sure that’s true. Remember this data set from the CNN poll of Wisconsin a few days ago?

Romney and Ryan have done a bang-up job thus far of hammering the point that Ryan’s plan wouldn’t touch Medicare for anyone over 55. That’s great news for senior citizens — no wonder so many of them who want the program left “as it is” support the GOP — but the flip side is that near-seniors, from ages 40-60, say, might start panicking about bearing the full brunt of Ryan’s reforms even though they’re nearing retirement. I hope pollsters keep an eye on the age splits when they ask this question, because in their haste to spot a senior stampede, they might be missing a near-senior one.

There’s the obligatory eeyorism. The good news is that, so long as Romney/Ryan can earn a stalemate on this issue, the electorate will be free to decide based on the most important issue of all.