Polls are now pointing to Joe Biden becoming the first Democratic presidential nominee in 20 years to win a majority of senior citizens.
Why are seniors breaking hard to Joe Biden?
By Greg Sargent | The Washington Post
The latest batch of national polls shows some truly startling numbers: This week’s NBC News-Wall Street Journal survey puts Joe Biden ahead of President Trump by 14 points, and the latest CNN poll finds him leading by 16 points.
But even more striking is what these polls show among seniors: NBC has Biden up among voters 65 years and older by 62 percent to 35 percent, and CNN has him up among them by 60 percent to 39 percent.
It may well be that these polls are outliers, or that Republican respondents are not answering pollsters’ calls because of the president’s terrible debate performance, skewing the results against him.
But one thing that plainly is happening is that seniors are moving toward Biden in surprising numbers. If these polls are outliers, the impression of movement among seniors may be inflated, but we can be reasonably sure that this movement is, in fact, happening to some degree, and that it’s significant.AD
This movement is also showing up in state polls. As NBC News’s Sahil Kapur reports, a recent round of them found Biden leading by 11 points among seniors in Pennsylvania, nearly 30 points among the same age group in Michigan, and at parity among them even in relatively red Arizona.
But why is this happening? The conventional explanation, the most obvious one, is Trump’s botching of the coronavirus pandemic; these voters are most vulnerable to paying the ultimate price for the president’s catastrophic failures.
Yet there may be other hidden reasons for this, as well.
John Anzalone, a pollster for the Biden campaign, tells me the campaign believes health care, Social Security and Biden’s frequent talk about bipartisanship also play a major role in luring seniors toward him.
On health care, Trump has taken the Republican position and exaggerated it to almost comical levels of incompetence and depravity. It isn’t just that Trump presided over the GOP’s first serious effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act — which Biden played a high-profile role in helping to implement, something seniors remember, Anzalone argues.AD
It’s also that Trump has spent years vowing a replacement plan that never materializes, showing remarkable contempt for the intelligence of voters, even as he has continued supporting a lawsuit that would gut the ACA in the midst of a pandemic. Additionally, Trump’s frequent promise to get the government to experiment with how Medicare pays for prescription drugs to bring down prices just never seems to materialize.
Seniors, Anzalone told me, are “aware” of this history.
Note that the new CNN poll finds that among voters over 65 years old, Biden is trusted to handle health care by a remarkable 61 percent to 37 percent.
And Trump has recklessly talked about trying to cut the payroll tax, which could badly undermine Social Security’s fiscal future.
Then there’s all the “bipartisanship” talk from Biden. This understandably frustrates online progressives, who note that Biden should know above all that GOP senators will try to destroy his presidency just as they tried with Barack Obama’s.AD
But seniors remember that Biden did try to negotiate with GOP senators during the Obama years, Anzalone says. He notes that this combines with the fact that seniors “know” Biden and see him as “moderate” to produce general feelings of “trust” toward him. It certainly helps that Biden himself is one of them.
This isn’t to say that coronavirus isn’t important here. It surely is. Trump’s constant hectoring approach to getting the country to reopen faster, and the relentless denial that coronavirus is a serious problem, surely weigh heavily as well.
After all, seniors perhaps have less of an incentive to want to resume economic activity than people in other age groups do. And they can’t be reacting well to Trump dismissing their worries about social interactions, since the stakes are much higher for them, and since they are getting denied interactions with younger loved ones, even as Trump sneers at the very idea of taking precautions.AD
By contrast, Biden has spent months very consciously projecting a sense of empathy with the emotional hardships that social distancing is imposing on people. Seniors have surely noticed that.
You’d think Trump testing positive for coronavirus would activate sympathy for him among them, since, after all, Trump is 74 years old and vulnerable to the virus himself. But his treatment of this episode — in which he staged a megalomaniacal propaganda show and a reckless excursion outside the hospital putting others at risk, all to elevate his alleged personal triumph over the virus into something of supreme importance — may only alienate them further.
Still another reason may be generational. Today’s Republican-leaning seniors, having been born in 1955 or before, probably have formative memories of Ronald Reagan as the first Republican president they personally lived under as adults who didn’t resign under a cloud of scandal, as Richard Nixon did.AD
“For many seniors their understanding of what a Republican is was shaped by Ronald Reagan more than anyone else,” Democratic strategist Simon Rosenberg told me. “Many people who voted for Trump in 2016 thought they were getting an updated version of Reagan. But what they got instead was a childish, angry autocrat.”
There is still a few weeks until Election Day, and Trump could somehow regain support among seniors as partisan feelings kick in. But if Biden can manage to remain even at parity among them, it will be extremely hard for Trump to prevail.