The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Trump’s oldest supporters hope he’ll make America great again economically

A supporter of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump holds a sign before a 2016 campaign rally in Toledo. (Angelo Merendino/Getty Images)

The U.S. Census Bureau released data Tuesday showing national poverty rates declined by 0.8 of a percentage point in 2016 to a rate of 12.7 percent. But not all groups are experiencing the good fortune.

According to the bureau, individuals ages 65 and older had the unique distinction of being the only population segment to experience a significant increase in the number of people in poverty.

There were 367,000 more older Americans in poverty in 2016 than the year before. The ongoing financial health of this group may be of particular interest to the Trump White House, considering the group's support for him. More than half — 52 percent — of voters 65 and older picked Trump last November.

Americans 65 and older were the only demographic group for whom the proportion of people with income below 50 percent of the poverty threshold increased.

The increased number of older Americans living in poverty could be due to the aging of the baby boomer generation, Americans born between 1946 and 1964. The group saw faster population growth than the overall population.

The experiences of this group of older Trump supporters contrast with the other groups in the report. The incomes of middle-class Americans rose last year to the highest level ever recorded by the Census Bureau. Because this is the second straight year that there was a decline in the poverty rate, this new data suggests that Americans were actually in a position of increasing financial strength before Trump took office.

Even a year before Trump won the presidency, seniors were flocking to him and his pledge to return the United States to what many of his older supporters consider this country's glory days — including economically. Here's a good snippet from an October 2016 piece from the Atlantic's Molly Ball:

In the primaries, too, Trump supporters were older, on average, than those of other Republican candidates. Despite the stereotype of the Trump supporter as a prime-aged working man, Trump’s campaign has actually been fueled primarily by support from the elderly.
This makes sense, doesn't it? Trump’s whole candidacy is predicated on nostalgia — not just making America great, but making it great again, returning it to an imagined, prelapsarian state of greatness. (Appropriately, Trump stole the slogan from Ronald Reagan.) More so even than most Republican candidates, Trump has run a campaign aimed squarely and frankly at old people’s nostalgia, fear of danger, and anxiety about social change.

Most economists would argue that Trump hasn't been in the White House long enough to have a measurable impact on the economy, but some question if he will ever be able to implement his agenda.

The president promised these voters that his commitment to cutting taxes, investing in infrastructure, renegotiating trade deals and repealing Obama administration regulations would lead to sizable job creation and economic growth. He also promised to protect the entitlements many of them depend on.

There is no proof of that happening yet — and time may be running out with Trump for older voters. The number of Americans age 65 and older who “like” Trump's behavior is higher than the total average of 16 percent, according to the Pew Research Center. But at 22 percent, it still remains low, which may make many of his older supporters wonder if the 71-year-old businessman they helped elect will deliver on his promises.