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What’s the deal with the Senior Vote in 2020?

October 9, 2020

Written by Jordan Smith

The GSS and NES have Boomers as actually one of the most liberal generations when adjusted for race, considerably more so than the generations before and after, and on par with millennials all material conditions considered. So why do they vote so Republican? Well, they really don’t.

Something that is frequently called into question about 2020’s polling cycle- is Joe Biden’s high performance with 65+ voters really better than Hillary’s?

If so, does Trump even has a chance? Both of these questions are answered with a yes

Now it’s worth distinguishing that the Republicans and Trump have had poor senior polling in 2016 and 2018 throughout multiple pollsters, including CNN, Monmouth, and YouGov, before barely winning them over via issue distraction strategy. For example, focusing on the immigration surges of 2018 and the healthcare issue- which is central to older voters choices. Especially now in a Covid world, when Trump’s biggest dip in his approvals came during the 2017 Obamacare, it was no accident

In fact, according to a NYT analysis, 2018’s seniors only remained slightly favorable to Republicans nationally because of a surge of high turnout. This turnout came mainly from Trump voters who pushed it to near Presidential levels. With Trump on the ballot, those who disapprove of Trump will be more motivated to vote. At the same time, those pro-Trump sub-50 year old voters who didn’t vote will be more inclined to do so now. There are a lot more of these voters who skipped 2018 than anti-Trump seniors, thus cancelling out senior losses. We’ll notice later on a theme of cancellation between the two cohorts

Another overlooked explanation is generational cohort changes. Annenberg studies show that age-60 White voters were 51% Democrat in 2012. Those born around 1950-55 constantly dip down much less Republican than others even as far back as 2000 and beyond.

The same pattern was also shown in David Shor’s voter analysis of the two-way vote for Clinton amongst white people, with a considerable rise in Hillary vote from the 60-65 cohort. Many of these voters now would be 65+, and thus turning up in polls as such and making senior numbers looking much more pro-Biden. Another factor skewing the senior vote would be if the pollsters captured the remnants of an 80+ New Deal Democrat loyalist- who do actually still exist.

A potentially overlooked factor is seniors acting in reaction to the youth vote. Exit polls from 1972, 2008, and in recent elections in Britain, showed that as the youth became more left leaning, the seniors counteracted. If this reversed and the youth started polling more Republican than before- would seniors react in turn? It seems that from NYT analyst Nate Cohn’s post on an analysis of several pollsters cross tabs, this is to be believed as true.

People talk about the voter reliability of seniors and the devastation of their potential loses to Republicans, and not the volume of untapped sub 60-year old voters who represent the bulk of state electorates and non-turnout registrations. According to the CPS, even the highest median voter age in swing states like Wisconsin and New Hampshire is still only 56. In Pennsylvania, 65+ voters aren’t even the most reliable turnout group. The days of  Republicans being able to win Florida through seniors vote alone is at an end.