Older women are the most important voters in this year's election

Older women are the most important voters in this year's election
© Greg Nash

No handshakes. No haircuts. If we’ve learned anything in 2020, it’s that absolutely nothing should be taken for granted when it comes to engaging one another — how we gather, travel, work, learn, worship…and vote. While the best way to ensure that Americans can safely exercise that civic duty is currently being debated, one thing is for sure: The key voting block for nearly any elected representative this year, particularly federal candidates, will be America’s 61.6 million female voters who are 50 years old or older. 

For decades, women 50 or over have been among the most dependable voters — consistently and reliably showing up at their polling stations or sending in their absentee ballots. While they represent just under 19 percent of the U.S. population, these women accounted for 30 percent of all Americans votes cast in the 2018 midterm elections. Perhaps most important, these women punch above their weight in key battleground states such as Michigan, Wisconsin, Arizona and Florida, where their share of the total vote the last few cycles has been higher than their share of each state’s population.

This pivotal election year, older women are at higher risk of negatives outcomes from COVID-19. But they’re not just worried about themselves. AARP’s research shows that a little over 60 percent of women 50+ are concerned that they or someone in their family will get sick from the coronavirus, and more than half (53 percent) are worried that they or someone in their family will die from it. Their anxiety should come as no surprise, as these women tend to be the “Chief Health Officer” of their households, carrying the weight and responsibility of their loved ones’ health care needs as well as their own.

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The pandemic is also highlighting older women’s uphill battle for financial security. Pre-COVID, women 50+ were far more skeptical about the economy than their male counterparts. Now, like millions of Americans of all ages, their financial situation has become exponentially worse. Unemployment among 55+ women soared from 3.3 percent in March to 15.5 percent in April, before rebounding slightly to 10.5 percent in June. Finding new jobs will be a struggle, not just because of the pandemic. It takes older job seekers longer than younger folks to find employment even in a good economy, and 50+ women face the possibility of not just age but also gender discrimination. 

We also know that these women continue to struggle with paying for the health care that they and their families need. This was their top issue before the pandemic when fully half of women age 50 to 64 and a third of women 65 or older told AARP that they couldn’t afford health care. Every day they are making tough choices to stay afloat, all while worrying about lost savings and paying their bills in the short-run, whether their Social Security benefits will be cut down the line and when – or even if – they will be able to retire.  

It’s an understatement to say these women are stressed. They are vulnerable to a virus that is making their already-shaky hold on economic security even more tenuous. And they will vote. They always do, and current polling shows their enthusiasm for participating in this year’s election outstrips younger voters by more than 20 points. 

The message for politicians and political candidates in all of this is that those who fail to address the health and financial security of women 50 and older, especially during this pandemic, appear out of touch. If they want to win, they need to listen to older women and focus on real solutions to the problems they face. And remember, issues important to older voters are also important to anyone with parents and grandparents. Now more than ever, American families are paying attention to the health and well-being of their loved ones. They need their leaders to pay attention as well. 

Nancy LeaMond is executive vice president and chief advocacy and engagement officer for AARP.