Battleground Bulletin: Trump Has a Senior Problem

April 26, 2020

Donald Trump has a senior problem. Democrats must capitalize.

Donald Trump loves to brag about his supposedly unbreakable hold on his base. But recent polling reveals that cracks may be forming in the president’s political foundation, due to a significant drop in support from one crucial constituency: voters over the age of 65.

Trump relied heavily on seniors’ support in 2016

Seniors were a key part of Trump’s coalition when he was elected four years ago. Exit polls show that he won 52% of voters age 65 and older nationally in 2016, compared to just 45% for Hillary Clinton.

This strength was further compounded by strong turnout among these voters, particularly in several key states that proved decisive. For example, seniors made up 30% of the electorate in Florida and 24% of the electorate in Pennsylvania  — and Trump won 57% and 54% of their votes, respectively. While he enjoyed somewhat narrower advantages in Michigan (51%) and Wisconsin (49%), it was still enough for Trump to pull off a string of unlikely victories that landed him in the Oval Office.

Given the razor-thin margins that decided these battlegrounds (and thus, the presidency) in 2016, any collapse in support from this heretofore reliable bloc of high-turnout supporters would greatly endanger Trump’s reelection — and that’s why a slew of recent polls should be keeping his campaign team up at night and creates an opportunity for Democrats.

Seniors are now abandoning Trump in droves

As Trump’s disastrous mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic continues, seniors are growing increasingly concerned for their health and safety, and with good reason.

Older Americans are at greater risk if they contract COVID-19 than any other age group, so the president’s misguided push to reopen the country without putting the proper testing and tracing protocols in place is a potentially life-threatening proposition. Unsurprisingly, public opinion polls have shown seniors’ support for Trump’s handling of the crisis cratering in recent weeks.

From Morning Consult:

By a nearly 6-to-1 margin, people 65 years old and older say it’s more important for the government to address the spread of coronavirus than it is to focus on the economy. And as President Donald Trump increasingly signals interest in prioritizing economic interests, America’s senior citizens are growing critical of his approach.

In mid-March, this group approved of Trump’s handling of the outbreak at a higher rate than any other age group, with a net approval of +19. A month later, that level of support has dropped 20 points and is now lower than that of any age group other than 18-29-year-olds.  

Other national polling has shown a similar downward trend. A Quinnipiac poll from early March showed 48% of seniors approving of Trump’s handling of the outbreak, with 45% disapproving. But within a month Trump saw a net 10-point drop on his handling of coronavirus among seniors: an early April poll showed only 45% approved while an outright majority (52%) registered their disapproval.

As Trump’s approval ratings have fallen with voters over 65, his performance in head-to-head polling against Joe Biden appears to be following suit. A new Quinnipiac poll shows Biden beating Trump by 10 points (52%-42%) among seniors in Florida. (A reminder: Trump beat Clinton by 17 points with this group in the Sunshine State in 2016.)

If that trend continues to play out across other battleground states, there’s no other way to say it: Trump is in deep trouble.

Trump’s attacks on Social Security and Medicare make matters worse

It’s not just Trump’s failed leadership on the current pandemic that’s alienating seniors. He has also repeatedly proposed large cuts to Social Security and Medicare — and has even promised to cut them further in the future, if reelected.

These positions are a non-starter with senior voters. In our most recent polling, nearly half of respondents 65 and older reported that these proposed cuts were their top concern about Trump after being exposed to a list of messages about his economic record. And in a list of dozens of potential hits on the president, a message about his cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid registered as the top-testing, most concerning hit among seniors.

Whether he’s putting their lives and livelihoods at risk with his incompetent pandemic response or his draconian cuts to essential retirement programs, it’s not hard to see why seniors are fed up with Donald Trump.

Democrats must meet seniors where they are — online

These shifting dynamics provide a promising opening for Democrats, but the battle for these votes is far from over. Democrats must capitalize on this opportunity by using every tool at our disposal to meet seniors where they are and continually communicate our message. Democrats should continue to use paid media to inform older voters about Trump’s willingness to put their safety at risk by attempting to reopen the economy too quickly, while continuing to remind voters about Trump’s ongoing attempts to cut Medicare and Social Security.

While many older Americans continue to get their news from traditional sources like television and newspapers, seniors are also spending more and more of their time on a variety of popular internet platforms. According to a Pew Research Center study, 46% of U.S. adults over age 65 are Facebook users, while 38% watch videos on YouTube.

While those numbers may not quite measure up to the vast majorities of younger voters who use those digital platforms, they represent a significant proportion of this crucial voting bloc. Democrats need to make robust investments in speaking to seniors not only through television advertisements, but also with a steady stream of paid and organic content on a variety of digital platforms and services.

Priorities USA has outspent the Trump campaign on television and online in key battleground states since last summer, and we look forward to working with our progressive partners to continue reaching voters of all ages wherever they spend their time. Together, we can put a couple million more cracks in the president’s crumbling political foundation and elect Joe Biden as our 46th president.

Priorities USA is committed to holding Donald Trump accountable on the air and online in the key states that will decide this election. That’s why this week we announced $65 million in TV reservations through November — part of our $200 million strategy to defeat Donald Trump.

While this announcement reflects our official reconfiguration for the general election, we have already been active in the key battleground states for months. Since July 2019, Priorities has single-handedly outspent the Trump campaign online and on TV in Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin:

Here’s how the in-state spending stacked up in the most recent week on record:


On the record: 

In our latest television ad, we’re telling the stories of health care workers who are at the front lines of this crisis while Trump focuses on his own political prospects and ignores their pleas for help.

FRONT LINES is currently up on TV in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan. 

We’re also holding Trump accountable for his inaction and incompetence responding to the coronavirus in our latest digital ads. Even after he was given ample warning from intelligence officials and a “pandemic playbook,” Trump still downplayed the threat and left the American people unprepared.

PLAYBOOK is running on pre-roll video, social media, and streaming TVs, targeting voters in battleground states who are likely to be undecided. 

On the record: