Trump has been losing votes among senior citizens, according to polls, and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden has been gaining them — something relatively rare for a Democratic nominee, experts say.
A recent poll by CNN and SSRS, an independent research company, showed 60 per cent of respondents aged 65 and up saying they would vote for Biden, while 39 per cent would vote for Trump.
The poll, conducted between Oct. 1 to Oct 4., showed that 63 per cent of seniors said Biden did a better job during the first presidential debate, while 23 per cent said Trump did.
When it came to the country’s handling of the novel coronavirus, respondents over the age of 65 were more prone to choose Biden as a better leader. Sixty-one per cent of respondents said Biden could better handle the coronavirus outbreak, while 36 per cent said Trump could.
A different poll, by NBC News/Wall Street Journal, released two days after the first debate, showed 63 per cent of seniors favouring Biden, compared to 35 per cent choosing Trump.
And a Siena College Research Institute poll conducted at the beginning of October showed Biden leading Trump by one percentage points among seniors in Arizona, a state that has voted Republican in all but one presidential election since 1952.
Two other American polls released at the beginning of September showed similar results.
A Quinnipiac national poll saw Biden leading by four points among seniors and a Monmouth University poll showed Biden with an 11-point lead with seniors in Pennsylvania, a key battleground state in the U.S. election.
Why the senior vote matters
Seniors are a key demographic for winning an election as older people traditionally turn out to vote at higher rates than younger adults.
According to Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan American think tank, in the upcoming November election, nearly a quarter of the electorate will be ages 65 and older, the highest since at least 1970.
“This reflects not only the maturation of the large Baby Boom generation but also increased life expectancy among older Americans,” the centre said.
Key battleground states like Arizona, Florida, Michigan and Pennsylvania also have disproportionately high shares of the senior electorate as well, Pew Research stated.
So winning the senior vote can give a candidate a significant advantage, said Tim Powers, vice-chairman of public affairs consulting firm Summa Strategies.
“Seniors turn out to vote,” he said, adding that this may be because of the generation’s pride of “civic duty.”
For example, in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, 71 per cent of Americans over the age of 65 voted, compared with 46 per cent among ages 18 to 29, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.
Trump had the senior vote in 2016
In the 2016 election, Trump’s strongest age demographic among voters was with older adults.
A 2016 CNN exit polls showed that while Hillary Clinton won voters aged 45 and under by 14 percentage points, Trump won voters aged 45 and older by eight points.
Another study on the 2016 presidential election by Pew Research Center found that voters aged 65 and older were Trump’s strongest age demographic; he had a nine-point percentage lead over Clinton.
Read more: Who voted for Donald Trump?
And this makes sense as older voters tend to be more conservative and younger voters more liberal, Powers said.
But recent polls show Trump losing his senior voters and Biden gaining them. Powers said he’s unsure exactly why this may be happening but suggests that the age demographic may be “fed up” with the “disruption” over the last four years.
Seniors turning to Biden?
“I suspect there are multiple reasons for the change in polling (among seniors),” Powers said. “In 2016, people wanted a change, and seniors were more supportive of the disruption Trump was offering. Well, that disruption has become a hot mess, especially for those who worked hard to build the U.S.”
“I think after four years it’s getting tougher to support Trump, maybe it’s a bit of embarrassment,” he added.
Patrick Murray, director of the Independent Monmouth University Polling Institute, told the L.A. Times in the spring that a possible explanation of Trump losing senior votes is that there’s been too much political chaos.
“A sizable chunk of these senior voters, who have seen a lot more politics over the years and can compare to prior administrations, feel there has been a lot more chaos in D.C. than they bargained for when they backed Trump in 2016, and they just want some normalcy in the White House.”
Powers said seniors may not choose to vote at all, or decide to vote for Biden instead.
“He is a senior too. He is 77, the oldest presidential candidate Americans have ever had. Perhaps there is comfort in that among seniors,” Powers argued. “He also has had 47 years of service and maybe they see he is committed to his country.”
But Powers stressed that just because the polls say Biden may be ahead, it does not mean he will win.
Trump still strikes a chord among many Americans, he said.
“He goes against convention and his reality schtick really appeals to people. He does have a strong pool of voters,” he said.