In addition, three-quarters of white seniors believe that the government should promote traditional family values in society and about two-thirds think the Ten Commandments should be allowed to be displayed at public schools and courthouses. And, by very wide margins, they oppose reparations for slavery and believe that there are only two genders, male and female.
So in short: liberal, but not especially, on some economic issues — and fairly traditional, but not draconian, on social issues. It’s easy to see why many voters who thought that was what they would get from a Trump administration are now disappointed. Combined with an age-related preference for normality and stability, that helps explain their movement away from Mr. Trump. They thought he would bring them closer to the America they wanted, with some of the decency and values of the past. As far as many white seniors are concerned, they didn’t get it.
For them, Mr. Biden seems like a comfortable alternative. He projects moderation and decency, an image burnished by his rejection of proposals regularly debated in the Democratic primary like Medicare for all and decriminalizing the border.
No doubt his appeal has been strengthened by the president’s response to the coronavirus, which has hit this group far worse than it has younger Americans. The president’s performance, and his ostentatious concern with reopening the economy rather than preventing deaths among the most vulnerable, has not gone down well with these voters.
For many, disenchantment actually predates the current crisis. But the pandemic, and Mr. Trump’s handling of it, has reinforced the shift.
Still, senior voters, even the ones who have recently moved to the left, are not securely in the Democratic camp. Policies that are too far to the left on immigration, health care and hot-button social issues could undermine their commitment to Mr. Biden and his party. This may present a particular political challenge after the wave of protests that engulfed the country in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
These voters have a preference for order — in one early June poll, 68 percent of senior voters supported or somewhat supported sending in the military to help the police respond to protests — so if they come to view Democrats as being soft on the violence that broke out in some cities, that could also reduce enthusiasm for the Democratic ticket. Similarly, demands that have emerged from the protests, like reparations or defunding the police, are politically unpopular with many seniors and could also potentially undercut Democratic support among this new constituency.
For now, though, this shift is the most consequential we have seen in this election season. If it remains through November and beyond, it could define a new era in American politics.
Ruy Teixeira is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.
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