The 2020 Presidential election will soon be upon us. Various Presidential polls have emphasized race or gender differences, with Trump strongest among white men. However, President Trump’s popularity also varies by age cohort, a key factor in Florida.
Nationally, Trump currently has the following levels of support by age grouping:
- Pre-boomers (born 1945 or earlier) – 54%;
- Boomers (1946-1964) – 45%;
- Gen X (1964-1979) – 46%;
- Millennials (1980-1996) – 40%; and
- Gen Z (born 1997 or later) – 27%.
The oldest Americans are the only age group still reliably Trump voters.
Trump winning Florida is clearly possible, especially with the enthusiasm factor discussed below, although it may be somewhat less likely given his falling popularity with seniors since the COVID-19 pandemic. Per other polling, Trump’s mishandling of the epidemic, inordinately affecting the elderly, has been obvious to many Americans and is the cause of much of this loss of support.
Seniors are also very concerned with earned benefits: Social Security and Medicare. Democrats have had a traditional advantage here, especially in Florida. Seniors are scared when Republican leaders speak about the reserves running out. The GOP has sought to privatize and cut benefits for decades. Seniors don’t trust the GOP to raise funding levels versus cutting their benefits. And, Trump’s questionable move to defer the payroll tax, funding Social Security and Medicare, is being used against him by Democrats. They should continue to drive these points home if they expect to drain Trump support from the boomers and older seniors.
However, for Democrats to have the best chance at defeating Trump, they must also have a good turn-out of younger voters and minorities. Democratic candidates seem to be doing only a fair job of solidifying their support among the young, who must be more motivated to vote than in previous elections. Items like forgiving college loans, which Biden adopted from Sanders, play well with financially strapped younger voters. Other progressive social issues might increase Gen Z turnout, including marijuana legalization which surprisingly, has not been pushed by Biden.
Further, Democrats have not structured a clear campaign message for Gen Xers and Millennials. They’re in their peak earning years, but also paying more taxes than those older and younger. What specific benefits will they get as a group if a Democrat is elected? So far, Biden doesn’t have a compelling answer other than “I’m better than Trump”.
Using healthcare as an example, premiums are rising rapidly for middle aged employees with private sector medical insurance. But Biden’s promise to extend Medicare to those over 60 is not groundbreaking. In fact, in 2008 former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid wanted to extend it to those over 55 but never got enough votes. Just supporting the ACA is not enough to motivate a person, unless the voter is actually on it. And, Biden opposes Medicare for all, causing it to be dead short term.
Trump has many failings – mishandling Covid-19, the Russia/Ukraine mess, racism, misogyny, denying science, etc. But the GOP base, anchored by older white men, has steadfastly stood behind Trump. The Republican leadership will never go against that base. Impeachment and removal efforts made that fact painfully obvious.
In fact, according to a July CBS poll in battleground states, Mr. Trump supporters in Florida are more likely to be very enthusiastic about their candidate by a margin of 5% (68% versus 63%). And, Trump voters in other swing states are also more enthusiastic about supporting Trump than the Biden voters are about Biden (by 2 to 9 percentage points difference, depending on the state).
Can Biden and the Democrats come up with a more exciting, persuasive and targeted strategy before November? Can the Democrats motivate younger voters, often Sanders supporters, to vote in higher proportions for Biden, a candidate they don’t really like? Can the continuing COVID-19 mess be used to motivate voters over 65, many of whom voted for Trump in 2016, to vote Democrat in 2020? Will Biden attacking Trump’s many flaws, but not stating clear policy plans, be enough to sway undecided middle-aged moderate and independent voters?
Virtually all recent polls show Trump to be far behind overall, although in red states he’s doing well. Based on the enthusiasm factor, my view is somewhat different. I believe it’s a closer horse race nationally, due to key swing states like Florida, and the enthusiasm of Trump versus many Biden voters.