By Mike O’Sullivan
Republicans and Democrats have been appealing to older voters, especially those 65 and older, as polls show Democrat Joe Biden is gaining ground against President Donald Trump with this key voting group.
The contest for seniors is likely to play out in battleground states with large populations of retired people, such as Florida and Arizona, says Thomas Volgy of the University of Arizona. Volgy, a political scientist, is a former Democratic mayor of Tucson, in a state that Trump won by just under four percent.
One in five eligible voters in Arizona is a senior, according to state and federal statistics, and “even more importantly,” said Volgy, “people over 65 tend to turn out in larger numbers than any other group.”
That gives them a disproportionate impact here and in other states, and both parties know this. At a White House roundtable on seniors on June 15, Trump affirmed his “iron-clad commitment” to protecting the nation’s elders. In late May, he announced a cap on insulin prices, citing seniors as a key group helped by the measure.
A leading pro-Biden group called American Bridge has launched a $20 million, 10-week ad campaign aimed at seniors in states that Trump narrowly won four years ago: Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
In 2016, Trump beat Democrat Hillary Clinton among seniors by a margin of 52-45 percent. Today, Trump is trailing in most polls of Americans 65 and over, by two points in a recent New York Times/Siena College Poll and 8 points in a Quinnipiac University poll released June 18.
The Trump campaign has disputed the findings of a June 8 CNN poll that showed 54 percent of seniors disapprove of Trump’s performance, criticizing its methods, but one pollster said the overall trend is clear. “[Trump] is not moving, not moving in the right direction,” said Tim Malloy of the Quinnipiac University Poll. “You’re looking at the clock ticking right now toward November.”
While some seniors are undecided, a retired nurse named Kathy in Nebraska has made her decision for Biden. “I want a president who cares more about the people who reside here than himself, his businesses, his money, and winning an election,” she said.
By contrast, retired California oil industry worker Ed Liu explained his reasons for backing the president.
“I don’t agree 100 percent on what Trump has been doing,” Liu said. “Maybe not everything was right, but he’s the only politician so far that I know, what he says during his campaign, he just executes his promise.”
Gerry O’Shea, who was born in Ireland but is a long-time New Yorker, calls himself a “dyed in the wool Democrat.” The retired school counselor ranks competence and integrity as key presidential virtues, and says he’ll vote for Biden.
Californian Julie Kirkham, a Trump supporter, thinks Biden lacks the stamina for the job. She also questions Biden’s record. “I don’t think he’s done much as a politician for all the years he’s been in there,” she said of the former U.S. senator and vice president.
Polls show an average 10-point overall lead for Biden, who’s now at roughly 50 percent among all demographics in national polling.
“When a challenger reaches the 50 percent point,” says analyst Volgy, “losing the election becomes very, very difficult for him. And from all accounts, it looks like Biden has now reached the 50 percent point.”
Still, a lot could change in coming months, and the polls in 2016, which put Clinton in the lead, got the election wrong.
Both campaigns have learned their lessons from that presidential vote and are now targeting seniors, a crucial demographic in the state-by-state contest that helped propel Trump to victory the last time.