Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s campaign is turning tradition on his head.
One big reason Biden has maintained his advantage over President Donald Trump is his unusually strong performance among voters aged 65 and older.
If the current polls hold, Biden’s putting in the strongest performance for a Democrat among seniors in a generation.
A look at the live interview polls since August that meet CNN’s standards shows Biden with an eight point advantage with seniors. This lead has been consistent for a while now. If we extend our average to include all data since the beginning of summer, Biden’s lead remains.
In 2016, Trump won voters who are now age 65 and older, according to an analysis by The New York Times’ Nate Cohn. In the final pre-election polls, he was up by three points among registered voters and four points among likely voters.
Of course, there has been some generational replacement among seniors. Some members of this group were under the age of 65 in 2016 and others who were part of it have passed away.
If you look at voters who were seniors in 2016, regardless of their age in 2020, Trump led by five points among registered voters and six points among likely voters in the final pre-election polls.
In other words, it’s very clear that Biden is doing significantly better among senior voters than Clinton did. He’s doing better by double-digits, even as his lead nationally is five points or less wider than Clinton’s were in the final polls of 2016.
The last Democrat to do as well with seniors was probably Bill Clinton in 1996. Both the network exit poll and one conducted for The Los Angeles Times had Clinton winning them by at least six points. The final ABC News/Washington Post pre-election track poll had Clinton taking seniors by double-digits. (The data in 2000 is more mixed with some sources indicating Al Gore won seniors and finding the opposite.)
We also see Biden’s strong performance with senior voters getting down to the state level as well.
Specifically, look at the state of Florida. An average of live interview polls taken since mid-summer have Biden up two points among this group. That’s not as large as his advantage nationally, but it’s a big improvement from the nine points Clinton lost among Florida seniors by in the final 2016 polls.
The shift among seniors is one reason why Biden has maintained a lead in the Florida polls, despite doing worse among Hispanics.
Voters aged 65 and older make up a disproportionate share of Florida voters. According to the government’s 2016 Current Population Survey, for example, they were 30% of Florida’s electorate compared with 24% nationally.
The point is we’re seeing the shift to Biden among voters age 65 and older occur across the board in states as demographically distinct as Florida and Wisconsin.
Now, it’s not clear what the source of the movement of senior voters to Biden is. You might be tempted to think it’s Trump’s handling of the coronavirus. That, however, doesn’t seem to be the case.
As political scientists Robert Griffin and John Sides pointed out in May, Biden’s overperformance with seniors has been evident in the polling since 2019.
Griffin and Sides found evidence that at least part of the reason Biden was doing so well with the group is that he was perceived to be more moderate than either Clinton or chief Democratic primary rival Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Seniors aren’t as liberals as some younger age groups .
Indeed, Biden did dominate Sanders among seniors in the primary. The only states where Sanders did better with voters age 65 and older were Sanders’ home state of Vermont and next door in New Hampshire, according to entrance and exit polls.
Another, at least partial explanation, is Biden is doing better with White voters compared to Clinton, and they make up a disproportionate share of seniors compared to other age groups.
Whatever the reason for Biden doing so well, it’s a big deal. It makes up for how relatively poorly he’s doing with other groups such. If Biden was merely matching Clinton’s numbers with seniors, he’d be doing about three points worse in the polls. That would sink his national lead under give points and make the Electoral College race too close to call.
Instead, Biden has a clear advantage nationally and the march to 270 electoral votes.