The latest Morning Consult poll found that 65-and-older voters prioritized defeating the coronavirus over healing the economy by nearly a 6-to-1 ratio. And over the past month, they’ve become the group most disenchanted with Trump’s handling of the crisis. In mid-March, seniors were more supportive of Trump than any other age group (plus-19 net approval). Now, their net approval of the president has dropped 20 points and is lower than any age group outside of the youngest Americans.
And perhaps as a result, Trump is losing support among seniors in head-to-head matchups with Joe Biden:
Those findings were matched by a new NBC/WSJ poll, which tested the presidential matchup between Trump and Joe Biden. Among seniors 65 and older, Biden led Trump by 9 points, 52 to 43 percent. That’s a dramatic 16-point swing from Hillary Clinton’s showing in the 2016 election; she lost seniors by 7 points to Trump (52-45 percent).
As Kraushaar notes, seniors have a great deal riding on the handling of the coronavirus, because of their advanced years:
They’re counting on the president to protect them at a particularly precarious moment. If Trump’s desire to quickly reopen the economy ends up backfiring, they’ll be the first to abandon him and deal his reelection prospects a crippling blow.
It doesn’t seem likely that Biden will ultimately beat Trump among seniors. But this does highlight something else: Trump’s effort to turn the coronavirus into a full blown culture war that divides the country to his benefit appears to suffer from a very serious deficiency that has eluded notice thus far.
On the one hand, Trump is hammering blue state governors for continuing to impose social distancing restrictions to prevent the coronavirus’s spread — never mind that his own administration has endorsed such measures. The obvious idea is to energize the rural voters and working-class whites in his base against elites who are insisting on maintaining restrictions — and as a result keeping the economy on lockdown — mostly to protect voters from higher density areas where the coronavirus has raged out of control.
Ordinarily you’d think the older voters among those constituencies in Trump’s base might be generally receptive to this kind of culture-war-mongering. But in this case, they may not be prime targets for it. Not only are they perhaps not raring to rejoin a reopened economy with the zeal that those in younger age groups are, but also they are at greater risk from the disease itself.
So it seems plausible that anything indicating Trump’s lack of seriousness about the potential consequences of lifting social restrictions too quickly might have the potential to backfire among these voters.
Trump allies have tried to tell seniors that they shouldn’t feel this way, but that hasn’t gone too well. For instance, Dan Patrick, the lieutenant governor of Texas, gamely tried to argue that grandparents should perhaps be prepared to sacrifice themselves rather than allow the economy to continue to tank.
The national backlash was fierce. And as one of the polls highlighted above shows, seniors continue to disagree in overwhelming percentages.
It may be that this debate just might not provide Trump with the culture-war tinderbox he thinks it does.
Notably, other demographic groups sympathetic to Trump also do not side with him in this matter. As numbers provided to me from this week’s NBC poll showed, a majority of working-class whites, and a large plurality of rural voters, worry more that we’ll move too quickly in loosening restrictions, costing more deaths, than they worry about moving too slowly, producing an even worse economic disaster.
To be sure, Trump still has other tricks in his culture-war magic chest. His new proposal to temporarily halt all legal immigration — based on the preposterously absurd rationale that this will help combat the spread of the coronavirus and protect U.S. workers — seems designed to further divide the country along these familiar lines of geography, education and age. That may work among some of these constituencies.
But thus far, the real story here may be that the country just isn’t that divided on the social distancing question.
As David Perry suggests, perhaps we shouldn’t allow the anti-lockdown protesters to make it appear as if we’re a “bitterly divided nation,” when in fact, the great majority of us are participating in distancing as part of an “impressive civic-minded act.”
“The silent majority of Americans, at great financial and emotional cost, are staying home,” Perry writes. “The bulk of us are all doing what we can. We mostly are listening to our best leaders and to scientists.”
Perhaps Americans actually do want to prioritize saving lives and healing the country over getting back to commercial activity. Trump obviously thinks this debate provides him with yet another chance to tear the country apart to his benefit, but he may be sorely disappointed in how little damage he can do along those lines.