I’m thinking no. After two elections in which Republicans overperformed their polling in FL, the GOP is the favorite until Democrats prove they can win there again. Trump’s upset of Hillary in 2016 suggested that right-leaning voters in the panhandle are being chronically undercounted by pollsters. The double-barreled victories of Ron DeSantis and Rick Scott in 2018, a Democratic wave year, appeared to confirm it. Trump is the favorite.
But he’s a modest favorite and may be getting more modest by the day. All of the hype about Florida’s Republican drift over the past few years has led partisans on both sides to treat it at times as though it were a safe-ish red state. We hear lots of chatter about Biden contending in the Rust Belt, not as much about him contending in Florida. But after this new Quinnipiac poll of the state, his lead there in RCP’s poll average is actually higher than it is in Wisconsin and close to what it is in Pennsylvania. POTUS is going to have play defense in his (new) home state.
There’s another reason Florida should be on our radar, which you already know from reading this post last night. In a word: Seniors. The single biggest shift in the national electorate so far in the 2020 race is among voters 65 and older, who went from firmly favoring Trump in 2016 to even more firmly favoring Biden at the moment. That’s a deadly threat to Trump’s campaign if it doesn’t change before November. And an especially deadly threat in Florida, given how many senior citizens live there.
Quinnipiac has Biden leading Florida today, 46/42. Another recent poll of state had the two tied at 48. The last poll before that placed Biden ahead by six points. Trump hasn’t led in a survey there since mid-March, before Biden clinched the nomination. The most interesting number in Quinnipiac’s data is, yes, the age split:
Trump beat Clinton among seniors in Florida in 2016 by 17 points. In a race he won by 1.2 percent.
It’s tempting to assume that seniors have soured on Trump due to his handling of the coronavirus crisis, which has placed them at special risk, but the evidence in Quinnipiac’s data is mixed. Seniors do rate Biden higher than Trump on handling a crisis (53/44) and they’re the age group that’s most likely to say they’re “very concerned” that they’ll get infected eventually. But their ratings of Trump’s handling of the problem are basically the same as all other adults except for the strongly anti-Trump younger contingent:
They’re almost evenly split on whether the president’s done a good job or not, which leaves us scratching our heads as to why Biden has a 10-point lead over Trump in their age demographic. Is it a simple matter of seniors liking Biden more than Trump on a personal level? Joe has a 52/39 favorable rating within the group while Trump stands at 42/53. Another possibility lies in the fact that Florida seniors are slightly more likely than other groups to say that the state shouldn’t loosen social distancing rules by the end of April (75 percent) and that it should reopen only when public health officials say it’s safe (80 percent). Maybe some senior citizens have been alienated by Trump’s push to reopen ASAP and are distinguishing that somehow from his overall handling of the crisis. E.g., he’s supplied ventilators to the states so they’re willing to say he’s done a good enough job — but potentially he’s pissed them off by being cavalier about the risk to them in insisting we need to get back to work right away.
Whatever the answer, Trump’s problem with the 65+ group is showing up in poll after poll. Nate Cohn flagged it today in an analysis of the race as the single most consequential difference between 2016 and 2020.
[Biden] is the first white male Democratic nominee since 2004, and he is probably the first one since 2000 or perhaps earlier who won’t easily be dismissed as a liberal. He is not campaigning on the kind of culture war issues, like immigration, racial justice or gay marriage, that have tended to work to conservatives’ advantage with this group for decades. In other words, older voters may like him for many of the same reasons he disappoints young progressives.
Another possible explanation is Mr. Trump — and perhaps especially his coronavirus response. Older people are relatively vulnerable to the coronavirus and relatively insulated from the effects of an economic shutdown. The president’s drive to reopen the economy, and questions about his slow response, may resonate very differently for a retiree who backed Mr. Trump than for a young parent struggling to support children. A recent Morning Consult poll found that Mr. Trump’s approval rating on the coronavirus response was lower among seniors than among any other group.
Cohn notes other possibilities, like pollsters potentially overweighting older women in their samples because younger women are less likely to respond to calls from pollsters. Many members of a more liberal group, Baby Boomers, have also aged into the 65+ demographic since 2016, possibly tinting it bluer. Trump has made some gains in other groups since 2016 too: He’s picked up a few points among nonwhite voters and he’s being helped by younger voters’ disinterest in Biden even relative to their feelings about Hillary. He’s also holding his grip on whites without a college degree, a group that Biden was supposed to appeal to more than Hillary did. But the senior citizen vote is a potential gamechanger, both because of the magnitude of the shift towards Democrats and the likelihood that seniors will turn out to vote on Election Day. Trump needs to figure it out and reverse it.
If you think this all comes back to COVID, here’s one more data point that’ll back you up. This comes from YouGov:
The election will be won or lost in toss-up states. And right now, toss-up states are just as likely as deep blue states to say they’d trust Biden to handle the coronavirus crisis over Trump.
In lieu of an exit question, read this CNN piece about Biden’s new “four C’s” messaging strategy against Trump. The first C is to accuse him of being a shill for China, an obvious way for Biden to try to deflect Trump’s claim that Biden’s the one who’s soft on Beijing. Good luck convincing Americans that a president who launched an ongoing trade war with China is too weak towards them, however fulsome Trump’s tweets about Xi Jinping may be.