Trump's pitch to older voters is failing hard in Pennsylvania

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Polls show Joe Biden leading Donald Trump by 19% among older Americans in the vital swing state.

In 2016, older voters in Pennsylvania backed Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton by 10 points, helping fuel his narrow win. But four years later, polls show older Pennsylvanians are abandoning Trump for Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden in droves.

A Quinnipiac University poll of likely voters in the state conducted Oct. 1-5 found that 58% of those above retirement age back Biden, while 39% back Trump for another term. The 18-point lead represents a slight improvement for Biden since September, when the same poll showed him ahead 57% to 43%.

Exit polling in 2016 indicated that Trump won voters age 65 and older by 54% to 44% in Pennsylvania, his biggest margin among any age group. He carried the state — and its 20 electoral votes — by an overall margin of 0.7%.

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But older Americans have been hit hard as a result of Trump's botched COVID-19 pandemic response. Of 8,500 Pennsylvanians who have died of the virus, more than 7,300 have been age 65 or older.

Several older Republicans interviewed by the Philadelphia Inquirer this week said that Trump's intentional misleading of the public and downplaying of the threat of the coronavirus was the final straw for them.

"Telling us not to be afraid of the coronavirus when so many people in the White House are coming down with it is ridiculous," 71-year-old James Hill said. "I'm embarrassed that my party nominated him and that America elected him. I wouldn't even sit down to dinner with him at this point."

Trump's eroding support among older Americans is not just a problem in Pennsylvania. National polls show Biden leading among all voters over 65. A CNN poll released earlier this month showed Biden ahead of Trump 60% to 39% among older voters. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll around the same time found Trump trailing Biden by 27% points among seniors.

Older people have historically been the most likely segment of the population to participate in elections.

Trump in recent weeks has tried to win them back by alternately kissing up to them, bribing them, and mocking them.

In late September, Trump announced he would send $200 gift cards to older Americans so they can buy drugs. "Nobody's seen this before, these cards are incredible," Trump claimed. "The cards will be mailed out in coming weeks. I will always take care of our wonderful senior citizens. Joe Biden won't be doing this."

The unauthorized spending/vote-buying scheme has hit procedural snags and is unlikely to actually happen before the election.

In an Oct. 8 video message, the 74-year-old Trump talked directly to older voters: "So, to my favorite people in the world, the seniors. I'm a senior. I know you don't know that. Nobody knows that. Maybe you don't have to tell them, but I'm a senior."

"We're taking care of our seniors. You're not vulnerable but they like to say you're vulnerable. You're the least vulnerable but for this one thing, you are vulnerable. So am I," Trump said in the video, falsely suggesting he would be able to provide free COVID-19 treatments. "So we're going to take care of our seniors — all free!"

On Oct. 13, Trump tweeted an ageist meme showing a doctored picture of Biden in a wheel chair at a nursing home and the words "Biden for Resident." It was the latest in a long series of smears by Trump and his team attacking Biden's cognitive function and stamina.

Polling averages show Biden with a nearly 4% lead in Pennsylvania overall. Trump has not been ahead in any major poll of the state since May.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.