Senior Voters Lose Faith In Trump Will Shape 2020 Election (#GotBitcoin?)
Polling shows the president’s 2016 advantage fading as Democrats sharpen policy proposals. Senior Voters Lose Faith In Trump Will Shape 2020 Election (#GotBitcoin?)
The fastest-growing segment of the U.S. electorate is seniors. They supported President Trump in 2016 but aren’t squarely in his camp as the 2020 campaign picks up.
In 2016, despite polling showing an advantage for Democrat Hillary Clinton, voters over 65 backed Mr. Trump in the presidential election by a 52%-45% margin, according to exit polls. With still more than a year before next year’s election, 41% of seniors in a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll in June said they would prefer to see Mr. Trump re-elected, while 48% favored a generic Democrat to win in 2020. That comes as 46% of seniors said they approve of Mr. Trump’s performance in office, slightly higher than his 44% overall approval rating.
Among 18-to-34 year-olds, Mr. Trump’s approval rating is just 33%, the Wall Street Journal/NBC poll shows, and Democratic candidates have paid great attention to young voters this cycle, announcing support for plans like student-debt forgiveness. But the fastest-growing generation of voters isn’t millennials, it is seniors. Voters over age 65 are projected to make up nearly a quarter of the electorate in 2020, the highest such share since 1970, according to the Pew Research Center.
“Given the antipathy that younger voters have toward [Trump], he really needs support among seniors to reach at least the support he received in 2016,” said Jeff Horwitt, a Democratic pollster with Hart Research Associates who helps conduct Wall Street Journal/NBC News polls.
Seniors are the likeliest to actually cast ballots, with two-thirds of them voting in the 2018 midterms compared with 53% of the overall voting-age population. While the electorate in presidential years skews younger than in midterm ones, no Democratic presidential candidate has won seniors since Al Gore in 2000, and for the past five presidential-election cycles, every Republican nominee has won a larger share of seniors than his predecessor.
Now, some voters who cast ballots for Mr. Trump in 2016 are put off by the president’s brash tweets and his lashing out at lawmakers who criticized him or opposed his actions.
“He’s trying to trumpet himself to the public to make them feel as good about him as he does,” said David Smith, a 69-year-old retired firefighter union president in Lancaster, Calif. “What I would like to see him do is shut his mouth.” Mr. Smith said he still would consider voting for Mr. Trump.
In a July Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, Mr. Trump trailed former Vice President Joe Biden among seniors in a theoretical head-to-head contest, 55% to 43%. Voters over 65 also favored Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren over Mr. Trump by 7 and 8 percentage points, respectively.
“Right now, I’m a Biden man, but the only reason I am is because, according to all the polls, he could beat Trump,” said David Freund, a 65-year-old truck driver in Fort Wayne, Ind. Mr. Freund said he has voted for both Democrats and Republicans but is put off by Mr. Trump’s attitude.
Some voters expressed enthusiasm about the Democratic alternatives. Nicki Bing, an 86-year-old retired office manager for Habitat for Humanity in Nacogdoches, Texas, wasn’t a fan of Mrs. Clinton but said she admires Mr. Sanders.
“He hasn’t ever veered from the fact that he’s for the working-class people, and that he fights for the underdog,” she said. She is particularly fond of Mr. Sanders’s plan to cancel all existing student debt, as two of her three children, all of whom earned bachelor’s degrees, are still paying off their loans.
Democrats, too, face a potential hurdle with older voters: Many stances such as calls to decriminalize southern border crossings, or the embrace by some of the “socialist” label, alienate many seniors.
In recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News polling, 42% of seniors said immigration “weakens America’s values,” compared with 24% of voters under 35. Older voters also have a strong aversion to “socialism,” with the label receiving a 37-percentage-point net negative rating, compared with a net negative 17-point rating among voters under 35.
“Seniors are particularly resistant to some of those more leftward lurches,” said Nicole McCleskey, a partner at Public Opinion Strategies, a polling firm that works frequently with Republican candidates.
The hesitation surrounding specific Democratic candidates might indicate that, though seniors say they would pick a Democrat over re-electing Mr. Trump, the president could win back support once his Democratic rival emerges.
The Democratic candidates have begun making pitches to their older constituents in recent weeks, with Mr. Biden, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and others releasing policy plans targeted at seniors that address high prescription-drug costs, Medicare solvency, long-term care and other issues.
Three-quarters of the candidates addressed older voters at AARP-sponsored events last month in Iowa, where more than half of attendees at the state’s caucuses early next year are expected to be older than 50.
Still, John Hishta, AARP’s senior vice president for campaigns, said he would like to see more sustained attention from the Democratic contenders. “Most of them focus on issues and themes at an 80,000-foot level,” he said.
Voters still have practical concerns with the Democratic candidates. Despite her affinity for Mr. Sanders, Ms. Bing said, “I’m not sure that any of the Democrats are strong enough or show the ability to battle [Mr. Trump] in the ditches.”
The age of some of the candidates could also give members of the older generation pause. Mr. Sanders is 77 years old, while Mr. Biden is 76 and Mr. Trump is 73. “I would probably support Biden if it wasn’t for his age, but I can’t support somebody who’s going to be 80 before their term is over,” said Mike Hauxwell, a 66-year-old retired TV reporter in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.
The Downsides of Trump’s Slashing Style Are Showing
Disapproval by many Americans makes re-election trickier than it should be given the strong economy.
President Trump likes to say—and his followers often echo the sentiment—that his slashing, pugilistic style is necessary for him to succeed.
Yet there is mounting evidence that the opposite may be true: He would be having a more successful presidency, and stand on an easier path to re-election, if not for the ample doubts about his personality created by his relentlessly combative approach.
The freshest set of evidence comes in the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll. That survey finds broad satisfaction with the economy, good readings on the kind of year 2019 has been, and receding fears of an economic downturn.
A few data points illustrate the sentiment. When asked what the most important story of 2019 was for them personally, Americans cited the economy more than anything else. The share who called 2019 one of the best years for the U.S., or at least an above-average year, stood at 34%—the highest reading on that question in the past three decades.
Certainly Republicans and Trump voters are far more likely to give 2019 a high grade than are Democrats and those who voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016. But more than a quarter of independents also called 2019 an above-average year, a reading that almost certainly reflects positive economic sentiments.
Moreover, Americans see fewer clouds on the horizon. Nearly 4 in 10 think the U.S. will get better in the next year, while just 23% say it will get worse. The share of Americans overall who see a recession in the next year has dropped to 28% from 33% earlier this year.
In a normal environment, that kind of economic satisfaction and optimism should translate into a presidential job-approval rating of well over 50%—perhaps even 60%. Yet Mr. Trump’s job-approval rating stands at just 44%.
Similarly, a president overseeing this kind of public confidence in the economy ought to be a prohibitive favorite to be re-elected. Yet a stunning 48% of those surveyed say they are certain to vote against Mr. Trump for re-election, regardless of whom the Democrats nominate to oppose him.
And an even 50% say they are “very uncomfortable” with Mr. Trump as a presidential candidate.
What can account for such a remarkable gap between economic satisfaction and unease with the president overseeing it? That is a complicated question, of course, but much of the answer certainly lies with the nature of Mr. Trump himself.
The president stokes anger as a way to keep his political base galvanized behind him, and aligned against his political foes. He seems to create controversy as a way to keep his foes off-guard and steer the national conversation.
This leads him, and the country, to some dark places. The best recent example came in Mr. Trump’s now-infamous attack at a Michigan rally last week of both a dead man—former Democratic Rep. John Dingell, the longest-serving member of the House—and his widow, the current Rep. Debbie Dingell. Beyond just attacking the late Rep. Dingell, the president suggested that perhaps he now resides in hell.
Mr. Trump spoke, of course, on the day House Democrats voted to impeach him, and his aides cited his anger over that development as an explanation. White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham explained that the Dingell attack was an example of Mr. Trump’s well-known view of himself as a “counterpuncher.”
Certainly Democrats, with their visceral and oft-expressed antipathy toward the president, provide him plenty to punch back against. Mr. Trump and those around him point to not only impeachment but to three years of relentless charges of Russian influence on the president as both explanation and justification for the president’s combative style.
Mr. Trump won the Republican nomination and became president by tapping into a combination of anxiety, anger and a sense of grievance many Americans feel toward the financial and political ruling class. Yet stoking that mood of anger and grievance from the perch of the presidency has distinct downsides. Perhaps the best illustration comes from another data point in the new Journal/NBC News poll.
For three decades, the survey has regularly asked Americans whether they think the country is moving in the right direction, or is off on the wrong track. Usually, sentiment on that question reflects the state of the economy.
Yet today, despite economic growth, a strong stock market and low unemployment, just 35% say the country is moving in the right direction. More than half, 56%, say the nation is off on the wrong track.
The partisan polarization on this question, as on so many others, is more stark than it has ever been. The explanation for such a mood isn’t to be found in the economy, but rather in a fraught political environment.
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