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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

New Polling Data Shows Seniors Breaking for Dems

At CNN Politics, James A. Barnes writes that “Late summer surveys by CNN and other organizations show senior voters tilting decisively towards Democratic congressional candidates. That would dramatically reverse the recent pattern in midterm elections when the elderly provided a major boost to GOP candidates.” Barnes adds,

In CNN surveys conducted in early August and early September, registered voters who are 65 years of age and up preferred Democratic congressional candidates to Republicans by margins of 20 and 16 percentage points, respectively. CNN is not the only news organization to report this kind of GOP deficit among seniors. A late August Washington Post-ABC News survey found that if older voters were casting their ballots today, they would back Democratic candidates for the House of Representatives over Republican candidates by a whopping 22-point margin, 57% to 35%. Similarly, a national poll by Marist College conducted in early September found that among voters 60 years of age and up, they favored Democratic congressional candidates by a 15-point margin.

This is a potentially huge problem for Republicans: In the 2010 and 2014 midterm elections when Republicans regained control of the House and Senate, respectively, GOP candidates were solidly backed by voters 65 and up. When Democrats won control of both the House and the Senate in the 2006 midterm elections, they had a narrow advantage among senior voters.

Barnes notes that “Seniors are customarily more risk-averse than younger voters. Upheaval and uncertainty in government policies can make older voters apprehensive…In many instances, Donald Trump has governed in an opposite manner. And his brash personal style can sometimes come across as reckless. Barnes believes that Trump’s chaotic foreign policy, along with his reckless domestic initiatives and brinksmanship, is a turn-off for many seniors.

And it’s not just GOP-held House seats that are in danger. As Barnes writes,

But it may be in the midterm Senate contests where this trend could have its most profound impact. Democrats have six potentially vulnerable Senate incumbents: Florida’s Bill Nelson, Indiana’s Joe Donnelly, Missouri’s Claire McCaskill, Montana’s Jon Tester, North Dakota’s Heidi Heitkamp and West Virginia’s Joe Manchin. President Trump carried those last five states by double-digit margins in the 2016 election, and he is a frequent presence in Florida, where he narrowly bested Hillary Clinton and maintains a Palm Beach retreat.

Four of those states, Florida, Montana, North Dakota and West Virginia, are among the top ten states with the highest proportion of elderly (65+) residents according to the last decennial census. (Missouri was ranked 16th and Indiana ranked 33rd.)

All of those Democratic incumbents have been elected before, and in Nelson’s case, he’s won three previous Senate races. They are known quantities, and if elderly voters in those states decide to look for a check on Trump, they have a familiar face to cast a ballot for.

“Of course, polls can vary a lot between now and Election Day, and Democrats may not be able to sustain the hefty margins they’re currently receiving from seniors in several polls,” Barnes concludes. “But to win back the House and the Senate, they probably don’t need to. As the 2006 election showed, even a narrow margin of victory among elderly voters can help facilitate a Democratic takeover of Congress.”

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