In 2016, Trump beat Hillary Clinton in Florida by about 17 points among senior voters, polls said. The state is seen as critical to Trump’s path to victory in 2020, but this time around, some polls of voters 65 and over suggest it could be a virtual link between the incumbent Republican and his challenger Joe Biden, while others give the Democrat better health. advantage.
That might be all Biden needs to secure a victory in the so-called “1% state,” so called near to his important election.
“You go to places like villages [retirement community] and most of the time they’re going to vote for Trump, but he went from most to most of the time, ”said Charles Zelden, professor of history and politics at Nova Southeastern University and a seasoned poll observer in Florida.
“That extra 10-20% could be enough for Biden to win lane I-4. You go to the I-4 corridor, you go to Florida. You win Florida, effectively Biden won the election. ”
The key questions that will determine who will receive the 29 votes from Florida’s electoral colleges – Covid-19, the economy, and the pandemic’s impact on it – have particular resonance for older voters and explain the soaring enthusiasm for Biden, according to seniors eager to see the former vice president return to the White House at 78.
Opinion poll data aside, there is perhaps no better indicator of the voting intentions of Florida seniors than the tradition of golf cart rallies, the ultimate symbol of political expression. in the state’s retirement communities.
Formerly reserved almost exclusively for Republican supporters, rallies in villages north of Orlando; at Sun City Center, south of Tampa; and other large, classically Florida retiree enclaves have turned noticeably bluer in recent months.
“They love it, they have fun,” said Chris Stanley, president of the Democratic Club of The Villages, 32 square miles in north-central Florida, where census figures show 80% of the 125,000 residents have over 65. and over 98% are white.
She says such energy is reflected in activism: “Several times a day people call and ask, ‘What can I do?’ People who have never paid attention to politics before work in the phone bank, help with data, do traditional campaign tasks. ”
The reasons for the surge in support for the Democratic candidate in a region that opted for Trump by a margin of 115,000 votes in 2016 are simple, Stanley says.
“They are turned off by him. They are worried about their health insurance, their social security, of course. But they can’t stand hatred, vitriol. They envision Biden because of the way Trump behaves, ”she said.
Perhaps aware of this image problem, the Trump campaign is paying a lot of attention to Villages and Florida this week. Vice President Mike Pence spoke there on Saturday and Trump’s first public appearance outside Washington after his Covid-19 hospitalization was in Sanford on Monday.
In a state where about a quarter of his 14 million voters are 65 or older, Trump clearly feels he needs all the public relations help he can get.
Zelden, the political science professor, agrees with Stanley. “You see similar changes in the elderly as in women in general, and in women with a university education in particular. They are just tired of the drama. They want some stability, ”he said.
“And Biden gives them that stability. In the case of the elderly, he is one of them in a way that Trump really isn’t. Maybe in terms of age, but in terms of experience and experience it is not. You might imagine Biden living in Florida in a two-bedroom villa, but you can’t imagine Trump doing that, or anywhere other than a multi-room palace in Palm Beach.
Covid-19 is spreading fear among seniors, says Dr Zelden, not only in Florida where the virus has killed more than 15,000, but in other states where Trump’s once strong support of aging voters is also waning , like Pennsylvania, Arizona. , Michigan and Wisconsin.
“People are worried, they are scared, they are frustrated, and they hear the president say how blessed it was to have got it, he conquered it,” he said. “Well, he didn’t conquer it and if he did, he did it with a medical cocktail that no one else in the country has access to.
“Seniors are fed up with it even though they like the items on Trump’s agenda. They want stimulus, they want the economy to buzz because it keeps their investments in good shape. These are obvious things like that, but there are a lot of elderly voters who have seen the president constantly speaking and interrupting in the [first presidential] debate and they didn’t like it.
“There is a subset of seniors who really like Trump’s explosive element, they tend to be men, they tend to be a little explosive themselves. [But] many of them have women rolling their eyes.
Even Trump supporters admit that, at least economically, things are not so good. “Most older people depend on a fixed income and can have investments, and with the economy down and maybe because of the virus, their investments aren’t doing as well,” said Dick Inglis, 78 years old, from Sun City Center, a retirement community of about 17,000 with an average age of 75.
Inglis, president of the enclave’s Republican club, sees the coronavirus as “one more thing to watch out for” for seniors, but not a primary electoral issue.
“When it comes to what seniors care about, it’s money,” he said. “They want to know if they will have enough for their future and if Joe Biden will eliminate the tax cuts made by Donald Trump. They want to make sure their healthcare is in place and it’s safe. ”
Inglis doubts the seniors will be put off by Trump’s combative style, citing an increase in Republican club membership this year. “I compare them to a poodle and a bulldog,” he said of Biden and Trump. “Which one would you like to own? Of course, that would be the poodle. But which one would you like to keep your house?
Postal voting, favored by many senior Florida seniors, including Trump, began on September 24, and analysts such as Zelden doubt there are many yet to be decided. But Jackie McGuinness, Biden’s press secretary in Florida, said Democrats would work until election day to chase every final vote.
“One candidate has the backs of the elderly and the other does not. One has a plan for Covid and the other doesn’t, ”she said. “In Florida, every vote counts and reaching seniors is a top priority.”