THE VILLAGES, Fla. (AP) — Sara Branscom’s golf cart whizzed down the smooth asphalt path that winds through The Villages, the nation’s largest retirement community, an expanse of beautiful homes, shops and entertainment venues that bills itself as “Florida’s Friendliest Hometown.”
Branscom’s cart was festooned with two American flags that flapped in the warm afternoon breeze. A line of oncoming carts bedecked with balloons and patriotic streamers chugged past while honking. Branscom jabbed her left foot on the horn pedal, then gave a thumbs-up.
“This gets you rejuvenated and ready for the next month or so, so we can do this and win. It gives you hope,” the 60-year-old retiree said.
Then she let out a whoop and two surprising words: “Go Biden!”
It’s not a cry that might be expected to resound in The Villages, and it’s certainly not one that is encouraging to President Donald Trump. Older voters helped propel him to the White House — the Pew Research Center estimates Trump led among voters 65 and older by 9 percentage points in 2016 — and his campaign hoped they would be a bulwark to cement a second term.
They remain a huge chunk of the electorate. Pew estimates that nationwide, nearly 1 in 4 eligible voters will be 65 and older. It’s the highest level on record, going back to 1970.
But there have been warnings that older voters are in play. To be sure, Trump has solid support among older adults, but his campaign has seen a drop-off in its internal research, according to campaign aides, and some public polls suggest Democrat Joe Biden is running ahead or just even with Trump.
Mostly, it seems, older voters have been put off by Trump’s handling of the coronavirus, which affects these voters more acutely than others. They were particularly alarmed by Trump’s performances at daily task force briefings in the spring because his remarks showed an uneven handling of the crisis and inspired little confidence.
The president has tried to shore up his popularity with older adults. He has emphasized themes of law and order, and has warned that Democrats would preside over a sundering of the suburbs. He has promoted his prescription drug policy. And he has kept up steady visits to Florida — after Maine, the state with the oldest population — and advertised heavily there.
But whatever improvement he saw is now in jeopardy. The president’s own COVID-19 infection has refocused attention on the virus and his handling of it. If the 74-year-old Trump can’t safeguard his own health, some wonder, how can he be trusted to protect other older adults who are far more vulnerable?
In few places could any significant drop-off spell doom more profoundly than Florida, a state Trump almost certainly must win. Older adults historically are the most reliable voters, and Florida is infamous for its tight races. So even a modest drop in support could send Trump back to private life.