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.
Older Voters in Florida Could Be Key to the 2020 Election
Some who were lukewarm about Trump when they voted for him in 2016 say they won’t choose him again this year.
Mike McGalliard, a 73-year-old Republican and Air Force veteran, said he voted for the president in 2016 mainly because of his dislike of Mrs. Clinton and hoped Mr. Trump would grow into the job.
“It hasn’t happened,” said Mr. McGalliard, who backs Mr. Biden. “He’s a charlatan, a con man and a liar.”
John Smail, an 85-year-old Republican and retired human resources manager from Indiana, quickly regretted his vote for Mr. Trump. He compiled a list of grievances several pages long, from Mr. Trump’s friendly relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin to his seeking to gut the Affordable Care Act.
“On top of everything else, he’s a crummy human being,” said Mr. Smail, who supports Mr. Biden.
“What’s at stake is democracy. If [Mr. Trump] gets re-elected, he will destroy our institutions. He will tear up the fabric of our communities. If we don’t win this one, it’s all over, and pray for your grandchildren.”
— Bob Feik, a 71-year-old Democrat and Biden supporter, regarding the election
Mr. Biden’s “background is what this country needs right now. He seems to be able to work both sides of the aisle…. We need someone who is conciliatory, can reach consensus, make compromises.”
— Harry Nesteruk, a 77-year-old independent and Biden backer
The pandemic has weighed on Lee County, where deaths from Covid-19 total 60 per 100,000, a bit below the statewide figure of 63 and the national figure of 61. It has reshaped the lives of many older people who are restricting their movements.
President Trump won this county by about 20 percentage points in 2016, helping him narrowly win Florida and its 29 electoral votes. People like Harry Nesteruk could keep him from scoring such a lopsided victory here this year.
Mr. Nesteruk, a 77-year-old former defense industry executive, cast a ballot for the Republican candidate in every election since 1964. Come November, he said, that streak will end—with a vote for former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee.
Mr. Nesteruk said he soured on the president for a host of reasons, from what he called Mr. Trump’s contempt for climate science to his response to the coronavirus pandemic, which especially threatens older people like Mr. Nesteruk.
“He just totally mismanaged it,” said Mr. Nesteruk, who lives with his wife in a retirement community here. “So buyer’s remorse? Yes.”
Any slippage in support for Mr. Trump in Lee County, home to Fort Myers and a magnet for retirees from across the U.S., could complicate his efforts to again capture the critical swing state of Florida.
The county is a Republican stronghold, where more than one in three voters is aged 65 and older—compared with about a quarter of the national electorate—and many have roots in conservative parts of the Midwest. In 2016, Lee County delivered the president one of the largest GOP victory margins, in raw votes, among U.S. counties.
Interviews with more than two dozen older voters show that support among Mr. Trump’s base of Republican supporters remains strong—as does opposition to him among the Democratic minority—and the president is expected to win here again.
But in a state where the race is close, his margin of victory in places like Lee County could matter. Some voters who were lukewarm about Mr. Trump when they voted for him in 2016 say they won’t choose him again this year.
Mr. Trump earned 46% support nationally among voters aged 65 and older in the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, compared with 52% in 2016 exit polling. Some recent surveys in Florida also show the president underperforming relative to 2016 with older voters, one of the biggest constituencies in the state.
In some polls, Mr. Biden is lagging the 2016 performance of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in 2016 with another major voting group, Latinos, so stronger support among older Floridians appears to be helping him keep the race close.
Two Trump campaign officials said they have concerns about Lee County but believe older voters will come around in the end.
The campaign plans to highlight Mr. Trump’s stance on policies important to older voters, including reducing prescription-drug costs. But Mr. Biden’s campaign is encouraged by voters such as Mr. Nesteruk. “They know he’s empathetic. They know he’s relatable,” said Biden pollster John Anzalone.
Located on Florida’s southwestern coast and prized for its scenic beaches, manatee-filled waterways and trove of seashells on Sanibel Island, Lee County is one of the fastest-growing areas of the state. It draws retirees with its laid-back lifestyle and waterfront seafood shacks. The county teems with condo complexes, sprawling subdivisions and gated retirement communities.
Doris Cortese moved from Michigan to Cape Coral—the county’s largest city, with 194,000 people—with her husband in 2009, lured by the subtropical climate. She discovered the area was full of fellow conservatives and quickly became involved in local GOP politics.
“I felt like I died and went to heaven,” said Ms. Cortese, 81, one recent morning at the party office in Fort Myers, wearing a Trump 2020 T-shirt and sporting red-white-and-blue nail polish.
Enthusiasm for Mr. Trump is as strong as ever, she said, and the local party is mobilizing volunteers to register voters and knock on doors. As she spoke, people periodically popped in to request Trump yard signs.
That evening, she attended a meeting of the Lee County Trump Republican Club, which she leads, at a nearby pizzeria. Dozens of members gathered, maskless and not socially distanced, with TVs tuned to Fox News. A table set up by a featured speaker, Cathi Chamberlain, was arrayed with copies of her book, “Rules for Deplorables: A Primer for Fighting Radical Socialism.”
Mr. Trump “is the only one who can straighten out this country and get it back on track,” said Jeanette Morreal, 81. “I don’t see any indication that Biden has any experience that will bring the economy back the way Trump did prior to Covid.”
Around the county, Trump placards and flags adorn properties. A Trump boat parade off the coast earlier this month drew thousands of vessels. A local rock station recently switched its format to “Trump Country,” featuring country acts.
Nancy Kilpatrick, a 75-year-old Republican and retired teacher, said she worried about Democrats’ support for abortion rights, Black Lives Matter groups and calls by some liberals, though not Mr. Biden, to defund police.
This election “could alter the way we live,” she said. “Are we going to live in a socialist country or a free constitutional country?”
When U.S. Rep. Francis Rooney, a Republican who represents the area, said last year he thought impeachment proceedings against Mr. Trump needed to play out, many conservatives revolted. Shortly after, he said he wouldn’t seek re-election, a decision he said was unrelated to the controversy.
In an interview, Mr. Rooney said Mr. Trump’s base is most concentrated in Cape Coral, which is filled with middle-class retirees. “A lot of them are frustrated by the way the world has gone in recent years,” he said. “They don’t trust people like country club Republicans.”
Democrats are fired up as well, heartened to have a candidate like Mr. Biden whom some seniors find reassuring, said Gabriele Spuckes, chairman of the Lee County Democratic executive committee. Jill Biden, the nominee’s wife, recently hosted a virtual “community conversation” in Fort Myers, in which she lamented that the pandemic has kept grandparents from seeing their grandchildren.
The Biden campaign has run several ads in Florida aimed at older voters, with a focus on the virus and Social Security.
Bobbi Pitzner, a 76-year-old Fort Myers resident who switched her registration from Republican to Democratic this year and backs Mr. Biden, said she lost her job delivering catered meals to hospitals because of the virus. Now she stays home as much as possible and bathes her shoe soles in chlorine after any outing. She taught her dogs to pee and poop inside to avoid taking them out.
Ms. Pitzner recently organized an outdoor lunch gathering at a park pavilion for a social group she founded, Savvy Seniors—the organization’s first get-together since February. Conversation eventually turned to Mr. Trump’s handling of the pandemic and recently released audio recordings in which the president acknowledged he downplayed the virus’s severity at first.
“If he would have said something back in February, there would have been a lot of lives saved,” said Janice Odegaard, a 69-year-old independent.
“I don’t think so,” replied Christa Devine, a 77-year-old Republican. “If you scream fire, everybody is going to panic.”
Sheryl Bell is a rare find in Lee County: an undecided voter. The 72-year-old Republican and retired information-technology worker said she voted for Mr. Trump last time as an anti-establishment statement. While she said she is pleased with her finances and health-care coverage under Mr. Trump, she thinks Mr. Biden has a “strong moral compass.”
“I’m looking forward to hearing the debates,” Ms. Bell said. “I think that will help crystallize a lot in my mind.”
Today’s Older Workers May See The First Cuts To Social Security Benefits
The Congressional Budget Office released an updated budget outlook, including the pandemic’s impact on the economy.
Many young Americans say they don’t expect to get Social Security when they retire, but it’s the older workers of today who may see the first cuts to their benefits.
The Congressional Budget Office released an updated budget outlook on Wednesday, originally published in July, to reflect the impact the pandemic has had on the economy. In the report, the agency said the budget deficit will reach a record $3.3 trillion this year — and $13 trillion over the next decade. The national debt, which is projected to be 98% of gross domestic product this year, is also expected to surpass the levels of World War II next year, when it’s expected to reach 104% in 2021.
Among the numerous adverse effects of the current crisis is the steep incline in the expected insolvency dates for Social Security and Medicare’s programs, which are expected to run out of money in 11 years compared with the previous projection of 15 years.
The programs rely heavily on payroll taxes. The CBO expects reported receipts from payroll taxes to increase this year despite record levels of unemployment in recent months, but that will change in subsequent years, it said. Lower interest rates and price levels will also reduce the cost of Social Security and other related health care programs, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, which did an analysis on CBO’s updated outlook.
Still, Social Security is in trouble. The two trust funds that support the program, which pays out retirement benefits as well as disability and survivorship benefits, are already at risk of running out of money within the next two decades.
With the impact of the pandemic under review, the CBO estimates the insolvency date for Social Security Disability Insurance to be 2026, and the Social Security retirement program, known as Old-Age and Survivors Insurance, by 2031. Medicare Hospital Insurance faces insolvency by 2024 if nothing is done to rectify these projections.
“In other words, today’s youngest retirees will face a sharp 25% drop in their benefits when they turn 73,” the CRFB said in an analysis about the CBO’s report. The cut is attributed to less tax revenue, an aging population that will inevitably claim Social Security benefits and trust fund assets that grow at a lower interest rate.
Other research and policy organizations have even less conservative assessments — the Bipartisan Policy Center, for example, anticipates the two trust funds will be depleted around the time of the 2028 presidential election, according to an April 2020 analysis.
Half Of Americans Over 55 May Retire Poor
COVID-19 job losses, early withdrawals may decimate retirement finances.
How badly is COVID-19 hurting Americans on the cusp of retirement? Maybe worse than we thought.
In an interview, economist Teresa Ghilarducci, a professor at The New School in New York City and one of the nation’s leading experts on retirement, told me that half—that’s right, half—of Americans aged 55 and up will retire in poverty or near poverty.
“Our data is showing that, because of the COVID recession, about 50% of workers over the age of 55 will be poor or near-poor adults when they reach 65,” she said.
How poor is that? “A person who’s 65 will be near-poor or poor if they’re living on less than $20,000 a year,” she told me. “I think we could all agree that means chronic deprivation for the rest of your life.”
This is shocking and although I’ve viewed the retirement situation in the United States as more of a chronic illness than a crisis, this would make it a crisis for millions of Americans. It also would reverse decades of progress toward eliminating poverty among the elderly, from the Social Security Act of 1935 through Medicare in 1965 and beyond. As more people turn 65 and face poverty-stricken retirements, the fiscal and political implications could be enormous.
What’s behind this? People losing their jobs and health insurance because of COVID-19? Or losing the employer match on their 401(k) contributions? Or having to tap into retirement savings to cover daily expenses? “All of the above,” said Ghilarducci.
But it starts with job losses. “Older workers are losing their jobs at a faster rate, relative to younger people and relative to where they had been before than they were in the Great Recession,” she told me.
Unfortunately, many of those job losses will be permanent, she fears. A report done by the New School Retirement Equity Lab found that over half of older unemployed workers may be forced into involuntary retirement. Nearly three million older workers have left the labor force since March and if the economic disruptions caused by COVID-19 continue, another million could join them soon.
“A total of four million people potentially pushed into retirement before they are ready will increase old-age poverty and exacerbate the recession,” Ghilarducci and her colleagues wrote.
For older workers, job losses can have cascading effects on their personal finances.
“When older workers lose their jobs, they lose access to savings. They lose their employer’s contribution, and they face the temptation of drawing down their retirement assets,” she told me.
And while we’re on the subject of employer contributions, guess what? “Employers have changed their behavior,” she said. “In 2009, 20% of employers stopped contributing to the 401(k). But now over 50% of employers have stopped contributing to the 401(k). They learned they could get away with it.”
That’s a big blow to employees who count on those contributions to help them build their retirement nest eggs. Some studies have shown employer matches induced more employees to contribute to their 401(k) plans. Without those matches, they might not contribute at all. “We’re inferring from these practices and past behavior that people have stopped saving for their retirement,” Ghilarducci told me.
Even worse, they may feel compelled to tap into their retirement savings to pay the bills. Until now that number has been pretty small—2% of people with retirement accounts at Vanguard and 3% at Fidelity withdrew money from those accounts through June. And the CARES Act removed the 10% penalty on withdrawals up to $100,000 from those accounts for people under 59½.
It also allows them to pay back the money over a three-year period without having their withdrawals recognized as income for tax purposes.
But if a new wave of COVID-19 prompts a new wave of layoffs, more people may draw down those savings, meeting their present needs at the expense, perhaps, of their future retirement security. Most vulnerable now: people in their late 50s suffering permanent job losses but too young to collect Social Security or Medicare. Millions of people could fall between the cracks.
Ghilarducci recommends if you’re working now, to build up a six-month emergency fund—pronto. “Make sure that the money piling up in your checking account isn’t there for pent-up demand for your car or your clothes,” she said.
If an employer dropped its 401(k) match, she recommends you cover it anyway, if you can. And “don’t quit your job. If you’re older and you’re afraid of the virus, get a hazmat suit,” she said.
Has it really come to this—people being forced to choose between their physical and financial health? That’s what the virus and the reaction to it have wrought, and millions of people may have to live with the financial aftershocks for years to come.
Trump Trails Among Seniors, Key Group In Many Battleground States
Some states with big populations of people over 65 years old are also places where voters appear to be shifting away from Trump, polls show.
Republicans have won the senior vote in the last four presidential elections. This year, older voters are showing signs of having second thoughts about President Trump, one reason he is lagging behind Democratic nominee Joe Biden in polls of some of the most important battlegrounds.
Mr. Trump won seniors by 7 percentage points in 2016 but has trailed Mr. Biden by 10 points with that group all year in Wall Street Journal/NBC News polling. The coronavirus pandemic is making it hard for the president to rebound with older voters, who are among those most vulnerable to Covid-19.
Mr. Trump’s weakened standing with seniors is particularly important because of one demographic fact: Nearly every competitive state in the election is also home to large shares of people age 65 and older—larger than the national average.
Some of the most senior-heavy states are also places where voters appear to be shifting away from Mr. Trump, according to recent polls.
Maine is the nation’s oldest state, with seniors accounting for more than one resident in five. Current polling, as reflected in the FiveThirtyEight.com average of surveys, shows Maine voters making the biggest swing of any battleground state toward the Democratic nominee compared with the 2016 vote. Mr. Biden leads by 15 points in combined polls of Maine, a 12-point move for Democrats from four years ago that puts at risk the one Electoral College vote the state gave Mr. Trump.
Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, all Democratic-leaning states that Mr. Trump won in 2016, rank in the top 20 for states with the largest shares of seniors. Current polling shows each state has moved about 8 points in favor of the Democratic nominee compared with the 2016 outcome. Arizona, which ranks 12th for senior population, has swung by about 7 points.
Florida, Iowa and New Hampshire are also battleground states that rank in the top 20 for share of senior residents.
Interviews and polling suggest that Mr. Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic is weighing on the minds of older voters.
“It has bothered me a lot, because of my age and the way he acts like, ‘Oh, it’s nothing,’” said Virginia Chronister of York, Pa., who voted for Mr. Trump in 2016. “Yeah, OK, buddy boy, it’s something very serious…This is nothing you just sneeze over.” Ms. Chronister, 80 years old, says some of her friends have become very ill from the virus.
David Schwartz voted for Mr. Trump in 2016 and says he has already cast a ballot for him again this year. A retired cheese-factory worker in Marinette County, Wis., north of Green Bay, he believes Mr. Trump struck the right balance in trying to tackle the pandemic while limiting damage to the economy.
“I wear my mask when I go to the stores and all that,” said Mr. Schwartz, 72. “There’s ways of doing this without shutting everything down.”
Mr. Trump spoke to an audience of seniors in Fort Myers, Fla., on Friday, promising to provide a coronavirus vaccine at no cost to nursing homes. “No cost,” he emphasized in the speech.
The profile of senior voters can vary by state. Florida, which has the largest share of seniors after Maine, draws retirees from around the country. Pennsylvania, which ranks eighth, is one of the oldest states in part because many young people left after the steel and manufacturing sectors stopped providing as many jobs.
Mike Mikus, a Democratic political consultant outside Pittsburgh, said many seniors in western Pennsylvania voted for Mr. Trump out of hopes that he would revive a local economy still trying to rebound from deindustrialization. “Western Pennsylvania is really old,” said Mr. Mikus. “People remember the times when the steel mills were booming and you would go downtown, and there would be a movie theater and restaurants, and now it’s gone.”
Now, senior voters are weighing those hopes against the fact that many of them can’t see their grandchildren due to the pandemic. Mr. Mikus predicted that Mr. Trump would again win the counties outside Pittsburgh, but by smaller margins. “And it will be primarily because of older people,” he said.
In Pennsylvania, Mr. Biden’s advantage among seniors was larger than his overall lead in a recent Quinnipiac Poll and a survey by the New York Times/Siena College.
Asked whether the economy or coronavirus was more important to their vote for president, more seniors in the Journal/NBC News national survey picked coronavirus, the only age group to do so, though the preference among seniors was narrow.
Seniors were also more likely than other age groups to say Mr. Trump was taking unnecessary risks with his own health when it comes to the virus.
And when voters were asked which kind of candidate they wanted most—someone who would confront the establishment or one who showed compassion and competence—57% of seniors picked compassion and competence, compared with 49% of voters overall.
In Michigan, Mr. Biden led by 15 points among seniors, compared with 9 points among all likely voters, a recent EPIC-MRA survey found.
Michigan voter William Kludt, 76, backed Mr. Trump in 2016 but says he now regrets it, in part because he believes the president is pitting Americans against each other.
“And on the Covid-19 thing, we have a lot of people dead who shouldn’t be dead,” said Mr. Kludt, of Oceana County. He said nations that followed the guidance of scientists more closely lost fewer people.
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