Older voters helped put Trump in office; they will help take him out

Older voters helped put Trump in office; they will help take him out
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Joe BidenJoe BidenHouse passes 8B defense policy bill House approves bill to ease passage of debt limit hike Senate rejects attempt to block Biden's Saudi arms sale MORE's path to a decisive victory in three weeks is propelled by his peers: old folks.

In national and key battleground states, the turnaround from four years ago among voters 65 and over is striking. They went strongly for Trump in 2016 and now are solidly with Biden. 

Experts and political strategists say this undoubtedly reflects concerns over Trump's mishandling of the Coronavirus pandemic, which disproportionately affects older voters. Those 65 or older are 16 percent of the population, but account for 80 percent of the more than 210,000 U.S. deaths, higher than the percentage of overall death rate of seniors.

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This is a cohort that even prior to 2016 had been moving Republican for more than a decade.

Trump captured the senior vote by almost ten points, according to both the 2016 election day exit polls and the Pew Research Center analysis of the vote.

This past week both the Wall Street Journal/NBC News national poll and a CNN survey showed the Democrat winning these voters by more than 20 points. That may be exaggerated, but something close to a 20-point turnaround from four years ago is likely.

Much of this year's political analysis has centered on suburban voters, the gender gap, the educational divide or enthusiasm level of Latinos or young voters. Pew estimates seniors will comprise almost a quarter of the electorate. Last time, if Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonBen Affleck: Republicans 'want to dodge the consequences for their actions' through gerrymandering Republican Ohio Senate candidate slams JD Vance over previous Trump comments Budowsky: Why GOP donors flock to Manchin and Sinema MORE had split the elderly vote, she would have carried Michigan, Florida and Pennsylvania and won the election.

This shift is taking place in states as diverse as Iowa, where the pollster tells me the latest Des Moines Register poll had Biden, who will turn 78 next month, ahead among older voters, and in Arizona, where it's the same.

The big two when it comes to these voters are Florida, a must win state for Trump, and Pennsylvania, a must win for Biden. Of all the big states, these two have the largest percentage of senior voters. 

In Florida four years ago, according to the exit polls, Trump won senior voters 57 percent to 40 percent, more than accounting for his one-point statewide margin.

Steve Schale, a top Florida political strategist who directed Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaBiden Supreme Court study panel unanimously approves final report To advance democracy, defend Taiwan and Ukraine Press: GOP freak show: Who's in charge? MORE's victory there, told me he expects a close race there on Nov. 3, but agrees Biden is resonating with older voters. A major factor is COVID-19. Florida has some of the highest case counts in the country — both in raw numbers and per capita — with more than 728,000 infected and more than 15,000 deaths.

This is especially painful for a state that depends on tourism and activities for its citizens. "People move to Florida to be active," Schale notes. "That's the dream of retiring here." The pandemic has thwarted that.

He cites a private poll this past week of Pinnellas County, the home of St. Petersburg and Clearwater and many seniors, that had Biden up six in a county that Trump won.

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A thousand miles up north, Pennsylvania has little in common with Florida except a lot of seniors disenchanted with the president. Four years ago, Trump carried Keystone State seniors 54 percent to 44 percent, according to the exit polls. The recent New York Times/Siena survey showed Biden winning these voters by more than ten points. Whether or not these numbers are precise, the trend is clear.

Biden, who was born in Scranton and showcases his middle-class background, is a better Pennsylvania candidate than Hillary Clinton, whom Trump only narrowly defeated.

A lot of the change, however, is about Trump.

The president has not only alienated some previous supporters over the Coronavirus, says Richard Fiesta, the executive director of the pro-Biden Alliance for Retired Americans and a native Pennsylvanian: "He said, in Davos Switzerland no less, that he wants to cut Social Security and Medicare and has attacked voting by mail which seniors will use in record numbers."

At the World Economic forum in Davos last January, Trump said with the "tremendous growth" in the economy he'd consider overhauling entitlements. That's a euphemism for curbing Medicare and Social Security. The president's budgets have proposed cuts in Medicaid and Medicare.

Older voters have vacillated in political allegiances over the past 30 years. Twice Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonIs the US capable of thinking strategically? Bob Dole: heroic, prickly and effective Biden on Bob Dole: 'among the greatest of the Greatest Generation' MORE carried the senior vote in his presidential elections, and they went for Al GoreAlbert (Al) Arnold GoreGOP becoming a cult of know-nothings Man seen with Pelosi lectern on Jan. 6 pleads guilty Judge says Gore, unlike Trump, 'was a man' and accepted election loss MORE in 2000. Then — in part reflecting the turbulence of 9/11 and the aftermath — they turned Republican in the next four presidential elections. The 65 and over vote was split in the midterm contests two years ago.

There's now a strong probability that next month America will elect its oldest president with important support from its oldest citizens.

Al Hunt is the former executive editor of Bloomberg News. He previously served as reporter, bureau chief and Washington editor for the Wall Street Journal. For almost a quarter century he wrote a column on politics for The Wall Street Journal, then the International New York Times and Bloomberg View. He hosts 2020 Politics War Room with James Carville. Follow him on Twitter @AlHuntDC.