Florida’s Seniors Are Sharply Divided on Presidential Election
A recent statewide poll by the AARP highlights the significance of voters aged 50+ in the upcoming presidential election.
The race is on to get some of Florida’s most dependable voters — people over 60 years old. The campaigns of both President Trump and former Vice President Biden are spending millions targeting the senior vote in Florida. As the most reliable voting bloc, more than 70 percent of voters 65 and older cast ballots four years ago.
In 2016, President Trump beat Hillary Clinton among 65+ voters. A big chunk of that victory came from Central Florida’s senior community, The Villages.
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On the Florida Roundup, AARP Florida director Jeff Johnson and WMFE reporter Joe Byrnes joined hosts Tom Hudson and Melissa Ross. Here’s an excerpt from the conversation.
TOM HUDSON: How are the presidential candidates targeting voters in the Villages?
JOE BYRNES: Well, you'll see ads focusing on the coronavirus. The Biden campaign featured a Villages' resident in a recent TV ad about her inability to get out and see her grandchildren. And just the way that the Trump administration has handled COVID-19.
For Republicans, there are ads focusing on crime and tax issues and other things that could drive Republican voters. That's the ad component. As for the ground game, of course, there isn't the kind of active ground game that you might see when there's not a pandemic.
But here in The Villages, we have the golf cart parades, and there have been some huge golf cart parades the Republicans recently — these estimated 800 golf carts. And also by the Democrats. And they both have camp and golf cart parades coming up. They do that to show support for their candidate, to show enthusiasm.
HUDSON: Joe, I want to talk a little bit more about some of the themes that the campaigns are using in their advertising and how those are resonating with voters in The Villages. Former Vice President Biden is talking about health care and the pandemic. And it sounds like President Trump's campaign is really talking about law and order and crime. Wondering about those traditional senior issues, though, Social Security, Medicare, and one that has crept up over the last decade — the cost of prescription medicine. Are those issues that the candidates, the campaigns are seizing upon, and if so, how?
BYRNES: I'm not seeing that a lot. I do know that those issues are important, and, of course, you see the president addressing issues of prescription drug and drug costs and things like that, that will definitely be key for these voters. But I'm not seeing the campaigns focus particularly on those issues. What I'm seeing is there's a lot of back and forth and enthusiasm.
And the way that the Republican Party here puts it is there's a lot of confidence, confidence in their vote, confidence in their man. And for the Democrats, what I'm hearing is they are fired up. And even though they can't get together to show that, apparently they feel extremely enthusiastic and energized for Biden and against Trump.
MELISSA ROSS: Let's talk about how the pandemic is affecting the senior vote in Florida. Typically, the majority of seniors in this state have supported President Trump. How do you see the pandemic potentially affecting that base of support? What is your community saying to you about this?
JEFF JOHNSON: I think it's probably good for us to always remember that the 50-plus population and the 65-plus population in Florida is a diverse one. And that when we're talking about support for a particular political party, we're talking about margins. While historically, we have seen older voters trend towards President Trump and previous Republican candidates, it's still a matter of margins.
What has been most surprising to us is the recent poll that AARP commissioned in Florida and, in a number of other battleground states, showed that in Florida, voters 65 and over are actually trending towards candidate Biden, 49 to 48, which is clearly within the margin of error. It's clearly a toss-up. But that's a change from what people think of when we think about that.
ROSS: When you think about this population, and how much is the concern about the long-term solvency of Social Security impacting seniors?
JOHNSON: I think that coronavirus clearly is a lead issue. And I also think Social Security solvency is one as well. We were surprised, not that people were more focused on Social Security solvency than the payroll tax cut, but that when we presented all of the different options for addressing the economic unrest that's come with COVID.
Whether it's the moratorium on evictions or stimulus payments or all of the unemployment expansion, Social Security dwarfed all of those. Not only among older voters but among younger voters as well. This is an issue that I think has much broader relevance than a lot of campaigns think about.