The Lincoln Project is the latest group to find seniors souring on President Donald Trump after his COVID-19 diagnosis, a development that threatens to derail his reelection effort with just 26 days remaining before November 3.
Beyond running ads on Facebook and YouTube, part of the group’s analytics effort includes a sophisticated campaign that serves ads to seniors based on the news they’re reading, and the group has seen a marked increase in engagement in Florida,Texas, and to a lesser extent in Ohio from seniors who are reading about Trump contracting COVID-19.
“Once the president got COVID, everything moved with seniors,” Mike Madrid, a Lincoln Project co-founder told Newsweek. “We’ve been investing for months to push that demo when that late break suddenly came.”
The data follows a CNN/SSRS poll this week—conducted almost entirely after the president’s announcement that he had contracted the virus—showing Biden leading among voters 65 and older by 21 points, with a CNN analysis declaring Biden “well on his way to doing better with seniors than any Democratic nominee in at least 24 years.” The 2016 exit poll shows Trump won seniors by seven points over Hillary Clinton.
This drastic change is also what Fernand Amandi, a pollster for Obama during both campaigns, is seeing in Florida, he told Newsweek.
His Bendixen & Amandi firm did a September poll and saw Trump’s unfavorables rise 6 points in October. The two major variables since September were the first presidential debate and Trump’s COVID-19 diagnosis. But the poll was in the field right before Trump announced his positive test result, without much change, and then concluded over the three days after his announcement when “Trump fell off a cliff with seniors,” Amandi said.
“The worst possible October surprise to harm Trump was him acquiring the disease, one he long tried to diminish the importance of and called a hoax,” he said of the virus that has killed more than 210,000 Americans.
“The moment he got the disease was the moment, that even for Trump supporters, it became clear the emperor had no clothes,” Amandi added.
He said Trump took reckless risks, all in the view of voters, and was “acting absolutely deranged, even by Trump standards.”
For Artemio Muñiz, chairman of the Federation of Hispanic Republicans in Texas, the coronavirus outbreak became deeply personal when his father recently lost his months-long battle with the virus, after Muñiz and his brother also contracted it.
He said undecided voters tuned into the first debate to see if Biden was healthy after all that had been said about him, but instead, just days later, it was Trump who was headed to the hospital, his health status unclear.
“The major critical mistake was mocking Biden for the use of a mask and the size of his mask, and then President Trump himself contracts COVID-19,” he told Newsweek. “A lot of Americans have lost somebody, and the question is why doesn’t President Trump share our pain when it comes to COVID?”
Muñiz said even friends who are seniors and support Trump understand the gravity of the disease, and have told him they don’t go outside because they “can’t afford to get the virus.”
The Trump campaign told Newsweek the president remains laser-focused on protecting the most vulnerable people, including the nation’s senior citizens.
“Seniors want the peace of mind knowing that their government is doing everything in its capacity to care for them, and the Trump Administration has been steadfast in preserving Social Security, strengthening Medicare, and lowering prescription drug prices across the board,” said Ken Farnaso, the campaign’s deputy national press secretary.
But there are some who argue the damage Trump’s debate performance did to his support from seniors also cannot be discounted.
An NBC News/WSJ poll released Sunday, but conducted before Trump tested positive but after the debate, found that Biden led by 27 points among seniors, a stunning 23-point swing in his favor over the last month.
Ted Strickland, Ohio’s former Democratic governor, noted that he is a senior as well, and told Newsweek he’s hopeful about Ohio turning blue again in a way he wasn’t a year ago and or even six months ago.
“The senior population’s views have changed,” Strickland said, and “the president’s cavalier talk about the virus only being dangerous to older people is perhaps a turnoff.”
“Based on my own gut reaction, Donald Trump drove the nail in his political coffin with that debate performance,” he added. “He likely turned a lot of seniors off because he was boorish and disrespectful.”
Biden allies, like The Lincoln Project, are banking that messaging on Trump contracting the disease will continue to drive down his numbers with constituencies he can’t afford to lose.
In their trademark way, the group jumped on Trump’s dramatic removal of his mask from a White House balcony, as the sound of a hospital patient wheezing for air played uncomfortably in the background, in an ad called “Gasping for Air” released Wednesday.
“Now Trump is still trying to convince us that the greatest public health threat in over a century isn’t a big deal,” the narrator said, “while he gasps for air fresh from the hospital.”