En español | Even though 90 percent of older Americans believe that the country has become too divided, new AARP battleground state polls show that the support of voters age 65-plus is very much up for grabs because their concern for the coronavirus and health care overall transcends partisanship.
AARP released the full results Tuesday of two sets of public opinion surveys designed to gauge what issues are driving the votes of those age 50-plus and what their main concerns are, as well as who they support for president and U.S. Senate. Voters were asked where they stand on a range of concerns — from cuts to Social Security, to the coronavirus, to the debate over racial justice and law-and-order priorities.
By overwhelming margins, older voters in 11 states (Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Montana, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin) with competitive races for president and U.S. Senate say they are more likely to vote for candidates who promise to protect Social Security benefits and strengthen Medicare. Four years ago, President Donald Trump carried voters 65-plus by 13 points. The AARP polls show that among voters in that age group the race between Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden remains close, as do a number of U.S. Senate contests.
“There are foundational programs that cut across all partisan divisions,” says John Hishta, AARP senior vice president for campaigns. “And they are, notably Social Security and Medicare, issues that the 50-plus care deeply about, no matter where you stand politically. And it shows that the candidates should be addressing those issues with these voters.”
The polls also show that older Americans plan to continue a long-standing tradition of heavy voter turnout, regardless of concerns over whether the coronavirus could impede their ability to vote safely. AARP’s robust Protect Voters 50+ campaign is designed to reach these voters in each state to make sure they know how to cast a safe and secure ballot.
“Older voters are taking a look at the voting process and making personal decisions on how they want to vote — either absentee through the mail or by going to the polls and voting,” Hishta says. “The interest in this election is incredibly high and the coronavirus is not going to stop them.”
More than 50 percent of voters surveyed in six battleground states (Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin) said they were worried about getting the coronavirus. The greatest concern about the virus was in Florida and Michigan, where 58 percent of respondents said they were worried about contracting the virus.
More than 80 percent of voters in all six states said they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who increased protections for nursing home residents during the pandemic.
“This is part of the whole theme that older voters are very concerned about their health and well-being, and that’s reflected in all the results – whether people being worried about getting the coronavirus or about the situation in nursing homes,” Hishta says. And those concerns, he says, is an example of an issue that transcends partisanship.
Opinions were mixed in the results of five state polls (Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Maine and Montana) over whether voters were more likely to support a candidate who is focused on keeping families healthy and reducing the spread of the coronavirus in their community or one who would concentrate on rebuilding the economy by reopening businesses. Voters in Georgia were tied at 48 percent on that question, while Maine voters expressed the widest disagreement, with 52 percent saying they wanted a candidate who would concentrate on reducing the virus and 41 percent favoring a nominee who focused on economic concerns.
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Counting the Votes
Voters in five of the states surveyed (Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Maine and Montana) are divided between those who believe votes that are cast in person at a polling place and those that are mailed will all be counted accurately. For example, while 51 percent voters in Georgia believe the count of votes cast in person will be more accurate, 48 percent of voters in Colorado and Montana say mail and in-person ballots will both be counted accurately.
Voters also have varying views on whether the expansion of mail voting will lead to voter fraud. For example, in Georgia, 61 percent of voters 50-plus believe more mail voting will mean more fraud, while voters in Maine are split down the middle — 50 percent to 50 percent — on that question.
“Unfortunately,” Hishta says, “this issue, like a lot of others, has gotten caught up in the partisan divide of the country.”
Voters in five states were asked whether they were more likely to vote for a candidate who is focused on maintaining law and order and preventing looting and rioting in America’s cities, or a nominee who is focused on increasing racial justice and reducing police violence against unarmed African Americans. In four of the five states, more than 50 percent were more concerned with maintaining law in order. In Maine, 46 percent would support a candidate focused on law and order, while 44 percent prefer a candidate focused on racial justice.
How the surveys were conducted
In Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Maine and Montana, the bipartisan polling firms of Fabrizio Ward and Hart Research did telephone interviews by landline and cellphone of likely voters from Aug. 30 to Sept. 5. The firms surveyed 800 likely voters, oversampling voters 50-plus in each state. The margin of error varied among the states, but each was less than plus or minus 4 percent.
In Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, Benenson Strategy Group and GS Strategy Group surveyed between 1,200 and 1,600 likely voters from Aug. 30 to Sept. 8 by landline and cellphone. The margin of error for each was between plus or minus 2.5 percent and 2.8 percent.