Dylinski was particularly disgusted with Pennsylvania’s voter ID law. “Republicans passed the law to disenfranchise people who would vote for Obama. Disenfranchising people from voting could be considered a terrorist attack. Please quote me on that.” Both had taught school for more than 30 years and had pensions from the school district, as well as Social Security. They knew how valuable those things are. “Everyone should have what we have,” Mitchell said. “But most Americans will never see a pension and a few years of well-deserved retirement at a decent standard of living. Everyone should be able to have that.”

Our conversation turned to Medicare. “We are worried about it,” Mitchell said. Right now they pay $1300 a month for health insurance from Blue Cross—the full cost of the policy, the same one they had when they were working, only now they pay the full cost. They look forward to going on Medicare, when that monthly outlay will drop.

Paul and Kelly

Paul and his wife Kelly were having a hearty breakfast at the Sugar Magnolia café when I stopped by their table. Paul, 47, works in commercial lending for a Boston bank. Kelly, also 47, is a nurse and works for one of the towns outside of Boston. Paul made his preferences clear right off the bat. “I’m a big Scott Brown supporter. He’s a new face, and I probably agree with him on 75 percent of his positions. Paul said he was a conservative, but most likely would not vote for Romney, and definitely not Obama. He may write in a candidate.

What did he have against Obama? “His rhetoric is too divisive,” Paul said. “I don’t believe in his class warfare. His message is not conducive to solving problems.” Kelly said she was going to vote for Romney but not any more. “His remark about 47 percent not paying taxes was a little harsh,” she said. Paul was particularly concerned about the economy. “Continuing government spending without tax increases or budget spending cuts is irresponsible,” he told me. “I think we’ll have to broaden the tax base and look at Social Security and Medicare.”

What did he have in mind for those programs? “I’d raise the retirement age, the cap on wages, and cut benefits.” I probed more on the benefit cuts and asked if he knew what the average Social Security benefit is. (It’s $1,230). Paul didn’t know, but said, “Whatever it is, we can’t afford it. I don’t think we should have our own kids continue paying for this.” What will people do if they don’t get Social Security, I asked? “I think they have to take more responsibility,” Paul replied.

I asked about the family’s retirement plans. Paul has a 401(k) plan from the bank. Kelly has one but is not contributing to it right now. They were eager to finish their breakfast, so I had to move on without asking about what they would do if Social Security were not around.

Jesse Moore

Seventeen-year-old Jesse Moore was walking down the street listening to music. He was happy to talk about who he would vote for if he could vote. He’s not eligible until next summer. “I’d vote for Obama,” he told me. “He likes to help the poor. Mitt Romney only likes the rich. My parents hate him so I do too.”

Moore told me he had been accepted into the acting program at Emerson College in Boston and would go there next year after he graduates from high school. He told me he was one of five siblings who had been in foster homes, but it was their dad, a home care worker, who raised them. “I’m really proud of him,” he said.

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The word on the street: disillusioned

The word on the street: apprehensive

The word on the street: frustrated

The word on the street: insecure

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Trudy Lieberman is a fellow at the Center for Advancing Health and a longtime contributing editor to the Columbia Journalism Review. She is the lead writer for The Second Opinion, CJR’s healthcare desk, which is part of our United States Project on the coverage of politics and policy. Follow her on Twitter @Trudy_Lieberman.