Joe Biden’s hopes of reaching the White House could rest on two crucial demographic groups that appear to be deserting Donald Trump: elderly people and suburban women.
They would join a broad coalition that includes strong support among African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, the LGBTQ community and young people. With the gender gap potentially bigger than ever, the president appears more reliant than ever on white men.
Little more than a week before election day, Biden enjoys a double-digit lead in almost every national poll and is ahead in the crucial battleground states. More than 52 million people have already voted, according to the US Elections Project.
In the past four presidential elections, Republicans have led among the elderly by around 10 points. But about four in five Americans killed by the coronavirus were older than 65 and a majority of Americans say Trump has mishandled the pandemic.
The president trails among elderly voters by more than 20 points, according to recent CNN and Wall Street Journal/NBC News polls. This swing could prove critical in states such as Arizona and Florida, which have a high number of retirees.
“In terms of voting blocs, there are two that are absolutely dooming Donald Trump,” said Larry Jacobs, director of the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance at the University of Minnesota.
“He won the senior vote by seven points in 2016; that was very important in Florida and a few other states. He’s now losing that bloc and the polls differ about how much, but the fact that he no longer has an advantage among seniors is really crippling for him.
“And then he has so alienated suburban women that it’s put a whole number of states in play, including states you wouldn’t expect, like Georgia. This kind of macho presidency has gotten the ringing rejection by women, particularly educated women who are so tired of the 1950s.”
The suburban revolt against Trump’s bigotry, hardline agenda and chaotic leadership was manifest in the 2018 midterm elections when Democrats gained 41 seats in the House of Representatives, the biggest such shift since the post-Watergate 1974 elections, and won the popular vote by 8.6%.
Trump’s campaign to win back this constituency, variously known as “soccer moms”, “security moms” and “hockey moms”, has been anything but subtle. He has tried to tap racist fears of suburbs overrun by crime, violence and low-income housing. In one tweet, he promised to protect “the Suburban Housewives of America”. At a recent rally in Pennsylvania, he pleaded: “Suburban women, will you please like me? Remember? Hey, please, I saved your damn neighborhood, OK?”
Polls suggest the plea is falling on deaf ears. Biden leads by 23 points among suburban women in swing states, according to the New York Times and Siena College, and by 19 points among suburban women overall, according to Pew Research. Pew also found that Hispanic women prefer Biden by 44 points and Black women go for the Democrat by a staggering 85 points.
Andrea Moore, 45, a stay-at-home mom in suburban Wayne county, Michigan, voted for Trump in 2016 because she was tired of career politicians.
“He was an unknown quantity, but now we know,” she told the Associated Press, explaining that she will not vote for the president again because of “a million little things” including his divisiveness, fearmongering and failed Covid-19 response.
The trends were underlined this week by a national survey of 2,538 Americans by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) that showed Trump haemorrhaging support among the elderly and suburban women as well as another, less expected group: white Catholics.
Only 38% of people aged 65 or older approve of Trump’s handling of the pandemic while 61% say they disapprove, the PRRI found. Among white college-educated women, seven in 10 disapprove of Trump’s handling of the pandemic, seven in 10 disapprove of his response to racial justice protests and a similar share believe he has encouraged white supremacists.
There are also signs of erosion among religious conservatives, a bulwark of Trump’s base. PRRI found that while three in four (76%) white evangelical Protestants still approve of the job Trump is doing, only 52% of white mainline Protestants and 49% of white Catholics agree. Biden would be only the second Catholic president.
Robert P Jones, chief executive and founder of PRRI, said: “White Catholics are a group that particularly in those swing rust belt states – Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Ohio – are really on the president’s must-win list. They’re also important in a place like Arizona. They are as big or bigger than white evangelicals in those states, so in terms of religious groups they are quite an important constituency.
“White Catholics in 2016 were basically evenly divided between Trump and Hillary Clinton at this stage in the race. We have them at 54% Biden, 41% Trump, so that’s a sea change. This group is going to play an outsized role in Trump’s path to the electoral college and he’s not doing well with them at all.”
Clinton was beaten in the electoral college after suffering heavy losses among non-college-educated white voters – a majority of the population in battleground states such as Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin – and failing to turn out African Americans at levels Barack Obama achieved. Current polling suggests Biden will do better on both accounts.
Whereas Clinton lost whites without a college degree by more than 20 points, Biden is trailing by just 12 in UCLA Nationscape’s polling, according to an analysis by the FiveThirtyEight website. This appears to vindicate strategists’ view that Biden, a 77-year-old white male from humble origins in Scranton, Pennsylvania, would resonate more with this demographic than the New York-based wife of a former president.
But, FiveThirtyEight added, Trump is performing slightly better than four years ago among college-educated white voters, and has made modest gains among voters of colour. The president’s support among Black voters aged 18 to 44 rose from around 10% in 2016 to 21% in UCLA Nationscape polling. He is also at 35% among Hispanic voters under age 45, up from the 22% in 2016 – and potentially significant in Florida.
Jason Miller, a senior adviser to the Trump campaign, told reporters on Friday: “We’re very proud of the president’s efforts to turn out Latino voters … There’s a lot of enthusiasm for the president, not just for everything that he’s done so far but also because people are really scared about Joe Biden’s appeasing the regimes from Cuba and Venezuela.”
Older voters of colour remain overwhelmingly Democratic, however. Biden is also dominant among all people under 35 even in Republican strongholds, with leads in Texas (59% to 40%), Georgia (60% to 39%) and South Carolina (56% to 43%), according to Axios and SurveyMonkey.