Two of the political data points that currently spell bad news for Donald Trump are steadily worsening public assessments of his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and Joe Biden’s strong position among voters over 65, who have leaned Republican in every presidential election since 1996. Since the elderly as a whole are more vulnerable than younger cohorts to a lethal dose of COVID-19 and since Trump at first minimized the threat and later expressed impatience with measures to arrest it, the obvious question is whether the one poll finding has anything to do with the other. Is Trump losing older voters because he seems callous toward their fears?
Morning Consult definitely has evidence that seniors are souring on Trump’s handling of the coronavirus, particularly now that he’s fretting so much over the economy:
By a nearly 6-to-1 margin, people ages 65 and older say it’s more important for the government to address the spread of coronavirus than it is to focus on economic goals. And as President Donald Trump increasingly signals interest in prioritizing the economy, 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.
Similarly, Quinnipiac shows seniors approving of Trump’s handling of the coronavirus by a 48/45 margin in early March but disapproving by a 52/45 margin in early April. Quinnipiac also shows Biden’s lead among seniors swelling from 49/46 in March to 54/41 in April, even though the Democrat’s overall lead drops from 11 to eight points.
CNN, on the other hand, shows Trump’s approval rating among seniors for his handling of the coronavirus actually improving a bit between March and April, with Biden enjoying double-digit leads among seniors in both months (57/40 in March, 55/42 in April).
But any way you slice it, Trump is playing with fire in promoting a megastrategy for the pandemic that appears to make the safety of seniors a secondary concern, even as he agitates against allowing the robust voting-by-mail options that might make seniors feel safer in voting. His party needs to win seniors and needs them to vote at their typically high levels. It’s possible Biden’s success in polling of older voters reflects these specific concerns about Trump or simply a tendency to embrace a less erratic and more empathetic leader at a time of maximum insecurity. So long as it persists, though, it is Uncle Joe’s ace in the hole.