With pandemic dominating U.S. election, older voters turning away from Trump
By Chris Kahn and James Oliphant
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Many older Americans turned their backs on President Donald Trump this year as coronavirus ravaged the country and undermined a key Republican support base that got him to the White House in 2016, Reuters / Ipsos poll data shows .
Trump and his Democratic opponent Joe Biden now almost evenly split American voters aged 55 and over: 47% say they will vote for Biden on November 3, while 46% support Trump, according to the national polls by Reuters / Ipsos in September and October.
That could be an alarming sign for the president, who is lagging behind Biden 25 days before the election.
Republicans have relied on senior Americans to support national elections for years and routinely benefit from a population that comes into effect on election day.
Trump won the age group over 55 by 13 percentage points in 2016. Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential candidate, got the same lead.
Reuters / Ipsos polls also show that Biden outperforms Hillary Clinton, the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, among senior voters in a handful of battlefield nations where seniors make up an oversized proportion of voters.
Winning these states will be critical to the 2020 race outcome: those who take the most battlefield states will be on track to win the electoral college and White House.
According to polls conducted in mid-September and early October, Biden beats Trump by 10 points among senior voters in Wisconsin and receives roughly the same support as Trump among those populations in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Florida, and Arizona.
Four years ago, Trump won senior voters by 10 to 29 points in each of these states.
Half of the senior voters in the five battlefield states blamed the high number of COVID-19 cases and deaths in the country - nearly 7.6 million cases and more than 210,000 deaths - for "poor leadership and policy decisions by President Trump," such as the polls show.
Randy Bode, 59, a Republican in Douglas, Arizona who voted for Trump in 2016, said he was disappointed with Trump's suggestion that people could protect themselves from COVID-19 by drinking bleach.
"He shouldn't be saying the things he says," he said of the coronavirus.
Bode, now undecided, is also concerned about Trump's efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act and how millions of Americans would be left without health insurance during a health crisis.
"He had four years to work out a plan and he didn't," he said.
A DETERMINING BASIS
Trump's standing among older Americans has deteriorated this year as the novel coronavirus hit the country, closing thousands of businesses, and overwhelming the healthcare system that seniors depend on more than others.
Sixty-one percent said in a national Reuters / Ipsos poll this week that they disapprove of the president's handling of the coronavirus, up 12 percentage points from May. And Trump's net approval for his response to the virus fell among all Americans to its lowest level since Reuters began asking the question in early March.
83% of older Americans were concerned about the threat the coronavirus poses to their personal health and safety.
"Seniors were far more concerned about COVID than younger Americans," said Alex Conant, a Republican strategist whose company found a similar trend in its survey data.
Trump's campaign has worked to stop the bleeding and last weekend he dispatched Vice President Mike Pence to advertise with The Villages, the conservative retirement community in central Florida.
On Thursday, while he was still recovering from his recent coronavirus infection in the White House, the president made a video addressing American seniors, calling them his "favorite people in the world" and promising to provide them with new anti-virus drugs free of charge .
"You are vulnerable and so am I," said Trump. "We will take care of our seniors."
The Trump campaign pointed to an ordinance he signed last year to bolster Medicare, the national insurance program for Americans 65 and older.
"President Trump and his administration remain focused on protecting our most vulnerable citizens, including our nation's seniors," said Ken Farnaso, a Trump campaign spokesman.
Biden also appeals directly to senior voters, particularly in Arizona and Florida.
His campaign ran ads featuring a Florida couple who cannot see their grandchildren because of the pandemic. Other ads have focused on Trump's threat to eliminate the wage tax, which funds Social Security.
Conant said Trump needs to figure out how to bring seniors back to their knees - and quickly.
"It's crucial," he said. "Trump will not win without the strong support of high-profile voters."
(Reporting by Chris Kahn and James Oliphant, editing by Soyoung Kim and Sonya Hepinstall)
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