A few weeks past Election Day 2020, pollsters and pundits continue to analyze who turned out and which demographic groups determined the outcome. So far, the numbers are telling a very nuanced story. With sky-high turnout on both sides, this was an election largely fought – and won – on the margins, with a few percentage points here and there making a difference.
That’s the national story of voters age 50 and up. Looking at different exit polls and post-election surveys, this age group appears to have shifted some of its votes away from President Trump who won the 50+ by around 7 points in 2016. Exactly how much varies depending on the survey (and not all show a breakdown of 50+ voters). The exit poll conducted by Edison Research for the National Election Pool of news outlets shows a 2 point swing toward President-Elect Biden compared to four years ago and a significant gender gap. This data shows both 50 – 64 year old and 65+ women favoring President-Elect Biden, by 9 points and 5 points respectively, while men in both groups supported President Trump by double digits.
Meanwhile, the AP Votecast data used by Associated Press and Fox News, among others, shows 45+ and 65+ voters favoring President Trump by a tight three-point margin. And, an election night survey conducted by Public Opinion Strategies showed the candidates deadlocked with 65+ voters, while 50-64 year olds favored President Trump by 8 points.
One thing about 50+ voters that is crystal clear . . . . THEY SHOWED UP in huge numbers . . . by mail and in person . . . during early vote periods and on Election Day. According to the Edison exit polls, they accounted for the majority – 52% – of ballots cast. And, voters 65+ were a larger share of the electorate than they were in 2016 . . . 22% vs. 16%. With 10,000 Americans turning 65 every day for the next decade, this group will be a force at the ballot box for years to come.
In addition to turnout and the horserace, it’s also important to understand what 50+ Americans care most about as our elected leaders put together their plans for 2021.
Through Heart+Mind Strategies’ FirstViewSM Presidential Election 2020 Survey, AARP asked about the importance of key issues as well as which single issue was the most important to their vote. The set of priorities for the 50+ is clear: response to the coronavirus pandemic, growing the economy, protecting Social Security and Medicare, and restoring honesty and trust to government.
These findings line up with what we’ve been hearing for months through our research and direct feedback from AARP members. Political polling has well-documented challenges, so it’s important to look for trends across a variety of platforms and sources of information. At AARP, that includes a mix of different kinds of surveys and independent research along with interactions with 50+ Americans through tele-town halls, contacts with our call center, and other feedback tools.
That’s how we know that health care is always a major concern for older Americans. In 2020, the coronavirus and the higher risk of negative outcomes are top-of-mind when 50+ Americans think about managing their health. Many, especially 50-64 year olds are also experiencing the pandemic as an economic crisis. While the unemployment rate for 55+ workers has come down significantly since the high of 13.6% in April, the percentage of long-term unemployed – those out of work for six months or more – jumped from 26% in September to 41% in October.
And, while there are big partisan differences in how older voters rank these issues – with Democrats/Biden voters prioritizing COVID response and Republicans/Trump voters prioritizing the economy, there is bipartisan agreement about the need to protect Social Security and Medicare.
These are all interconnected issues. It makes sense that heightened concerns about health issues and the economy increase worries about Medicare and Social Security. These programs are absolutely critical to the health and retirement security of millions of Americans. As the world around us feels increasingly precarious, it becomes even more important to ensure that both are stable for both current and future generations. So too is the need to restore honesty and trust to government, the fourth issue on the 50+ priority list.
America’s most reliable voters have made their voices heard loud and clear.
They want a strategy to tackle the COVID pandemic. They want real solutions to get our economy back on track. They want to strengthen and protect Medicare and Social Security so these programs will be there in good times and bad, now and into the future. And they want elected officials who they can count on to put partisan differences aside and work together to make progress on all of the above. These findings have important implications for President-Elect Biden and Congress. I hope they’re listening.