Sara Branscome’s golf cart traveled the smooth asphalt path that winds through The Villages, the country’s largest retirement community, an expanse of beautiful homes, shops and entertainment venues that bills itself as’ the hometown friendliest in Florida ”.
Branscome stuck his left foot on the horn pedal, then threw his thumb up at a passing cart.
“It allows you to rejuvenate and prepare for the next month, so we can do it and win.” It gives hope, ”said the 60-year-old retiree.
Then she uttered a cry and two startling words: “Come on Biden!”
It’s not a scream one would expect in The Villages, and it’s certainly not an encouraging scream for President Trump. Older voters helped propel him in the White House – the Pew Research Center estimates Trump won voters 65 and over 9 percentage points in 2016 – and his campaign hoped they would be a bulwark to cement a second term.
Pew estimates that nationally, nearly one in four eligible voters will be 65 and over. This is the highest level on record, dating back to 1970.
But there have been warnings that older voters are at stake. Trump’s campaign has seen declining support for older people in its internal research, campaign aides say, and some public polls suggest Democrat Joe Biden leads or even with Trump among older voters.
Most of the time, it seems, older voters have been put off by Trump’s handling of the coronavirus, which affects them more severely than other voters.
The president tried to build his popularity with older voters. He emphasized the themes of “law and order” and warned that Democrats would preside. a bursting of the suburbs. He promoted his prescription drug policy. And he maintained regular visits to Florida – after Maine, the state with the oldest population – and advertised a lot there.
On Thursday, the president posted a video of himself standing on the White House lawn in which he called the elderly “my favorite people.” Noting that they are vulnerable to the virus, he has baselessly claimed that a drug he said he received in the hospital would be free for the elderly.
But whatever improvement he saw, it is now under threat. The president’s own COVID-19 infection has refocused attention on the virus and its handling of it. If Trump, 74, cannot protect his own health, some wonder, how can he be trusted to protect other older people who are much more vulnerable?
The Villages scene on Wednesday underscored this belief. An armada of 500 golf carts gathered at the Sea Breeze Recreation Center to proceed to the neighboring election office to cast the ballots for Biden.
If the slow, four-wheeled show of force is any indication of growing Democrat allegiance among all retirees, that would represent a substantial change.
Susan MacManus, distinguished professor of government and international affairs at the University of South Florida, said The Villages and its powerful demographic have become less Republicans over the years due to an influx of more liberal people from the northeast.
She has seen research that shows a softening in Trump’s older base, both nationally and in Florida, particularly among women.
“This is the group that is leaving Trump,” she said. “And that’s because of his behavior, more than his politics. For older women, in particular. They have been through the battles. They frankly don’t like the debasement of women. More than that, they think about their children and their grandchildren.
Indeed, at The Villages, many of the people who ride golf carts are women like Branscome.
Florida has been affected by the cornavirus, and no other demographic has been more affected than the elderly. About 93% of the more than 15,000 deaths from the virus in Florida were people aged 55 and over, and many are scared – and enraged.
“The whole virus problem has hit really hard here,” said Branscom, who pointed out that almost everyone in The Villages had moved there from elsewhere. “We cannot go to our families because of COVID. I don’t see the end of it. There is no plan. Biden has a plan. He wears a mask. It gives us hope. ”
True, Trump still enjoys strong support among the elderly.
Judy Wise, a 75-year-old retiree from Plant City, a town east of Tampa on the Interstate 4 corridor, said her niece had not spoken to her in years, since a fight with Trump. Wise is a staunch supporter, and her niece is not.
“It’s not so much about man as it is about ideology,” Wise explained. She is convinced that Biden and the Democrats have a “plan to overthrow capitalism” and that he will be a “puppet” of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, progressive Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Biden’s running mate , Senator Kamala Harris.
Wise believes in a small government and lower taxes, and she is concerned about the recent nationwide protests this summer, some of which have turned violent. She acknowledges that Trump can be abrasive, but she doesn’t mind.
Pamela Allen, 72, has supported Trump since he stepped down the Trump Tower escalator in 2015 to announce his candidacy. Every few weeks, she waves Trump flags on the side of the Holiday Road in suburb of Tampa with a group of other Republicans.
“I love him. I think he does a great job. He addresses the situations of normal day-to-day concerns of ordinary people,” she said. “He keeps his promises, with little or no help from people. media or Democrats There is no positivity about anything he does.
As for the pandemic, she believes it is serious for the elderly, but “it can be exaggerated”.
“I don’t believe the numbers they publish on deaths. I wash my hands. I wear my mask. I avoid being very close to people I don’t know, ”she said.
MacManus of the University of South Florida warns that while some older voters have turned to Biden, there are many more like Allen and Wise who are firmly in Trump’s corner.
“They are probably leaning even more towards Trump. But in Florida you look at the margins, ”she said. “He won the senior double-digit vote in Florida in 2016. And now we’re showing single-digit numbers in the polls. … Any bleeding from a cohort is a red flag for this candidate. “
And in this week’s golf cart trailer, the Biden flags were blue.