Phone banks and pickleball: How the Biden campaign plans to court older voters (2024)

WILMINGTON, Del. — As Democrats fret about losing ground with young voters in November, the Biden campaign is increasingly heartened by a countervailing trend — a swing among the nation’s oldest voters in favor of the nation’s oldest president.

A spate of recent polls shows softening support for President Joe Biden among some traditionally solid Democratic constituencies — not just young voters, but also Black and Latino voters. Yet some of the same surveys show Biden pulling ahead among voters 65 and older, a trend that, if it carries through to November, would make him the first Democrat to win seniors since Al Gore in 2000.

With that in mind, on Tuesday the campaign is launching Seniors for Biden-Harris, a national organizing initiative to leverage what it sees as key advantages among those voters, a campaign spokesperson said. Second gentleman Douglas Emhoff will help launch the effort with an event on Friday in New Hampshire, the battleground state with the highest percentage of residents 65 and older, according to the campaign spokesperson.

First lady Jill Biden will also bolster the outreach with battleground state events in the weeks ahead, along with other surrogates who will fan out for events that include postcard writing, phone banks and even pickleball tournaments, the spokesperson said.

Biden advisers and his Democratic allies offer a variety of explanations for the recent shift among older voters, including some factors that they say also explain diminishing support among other groups.

Older voters, they say, are far more likely than the youngest eligible voters to consume traditional media, like newspapers and network newscasts; younger voters are increasingly tuned out or get information from places like TikTok. An NBC News poll in April found Biden had a more than 50-point advantage among newspaper readers but trailed by 26 points among voters who said they didn’t follow political news.

Biden advisers also believe his freedom and democracy argument particularly resonates with a generation of voters who lived through the post-World War II and Cold War eras. Biden aides have said his speech about democracy last week in France was an intentional echo of Ronald Reagan’s remarks 40 years earlier, something that might resonate with past supporters of the Republican icon.

John Della Volpe, who has been doing intensive research on young voters, said older voters have embraced Biden’s policies, such as lowering the cost of prescription drugs, whereas younger voters don’t feel similar benefits from them.

“On the other side of it, despite the fact that I believe he has delivered even more than people might have expected on the priorities of younger people — climate, gun violence, student loan debt — few have been able to see the tangible benefit of that,” Della Volpe said.

Biden traveled to New Hampshire ahead of Memorial Day to highlight expanded benefits for veterans under the PACT Act, which he signed into law. He highlighted the story of Lisa Clark, an Air Force veteran who is receiving benefits under the law after her husband, a combat engineer during the Vietnam War, died of cancer. He also saluted Clark’s 96-year-old father, a World War II veteran who was in the audience.

Rep. Ann McLane Kuster, D-N.H., said older voters in her state and elsewhere are attracted to Biden’s “steady hand.”

“They want someone with competence,” Kuster said. “They don’t like the volatility, and they don’t like the risk.” Kuster also said older voters, who remember what the country was like before Roe v. Wade legalized abortion, could be motivated by the issue now because it affects their daughters and their granddaughters.

The April NBC News poll found Biden and former President Donald Trump essentially tied among voters 18 to 29 in a head-to-head matchup. At the same time, Biden had a narrow lead among voters 65 and older, according to the poll.

While Trump won voters 65 and older in the 2016 election by 7 percentage points, Biden narrowed that gap to 5 points in 2020. Biden also won voters 18 to 29 years old by 24 percentage points in 2020, underscoring how critical the constituency was to his victory.

Both candidates are seniors themselves — Biden at 81 years old and Trump set to turn 78 on Friday.

The Biden campaign hopes to maintain his apparent momentum among older voters in part by contrasting Biden’s proposals for seniors with Trump’s policies.

Biden, in his State of the Union address and in most stops since then, has criticized Republicans over proposals to scale back retirement programs, such as Social Security and Medicare.

The Trump campaign says that it’s Biden who is putting those programs at risk because of lax immigration policies and that they would be shored up by a stronger economy.

Biden has said expanding the so-called care economy would be a focus of his second term, promising to make a new push for parts of his so-called Build Back Better agenda that failed to pass Congress in his first term. Vice President Kamala Harris focused on attracting more care workers for the elderly and the disabled at an event last month at a Wisconsin nursing home.

“The stakes in this election couldn’t be higher for seniors: A second Trump presidency promises to all but reverse the progress we’ve made and instead increase everyday costs for seniors so Trump can appease his billionaire friends,” said Mia Ehrenberg, a Biden campaign spokesperson. “Seniors are a critical part of the Biden-Harris winning coalition this November, and the campaign is working every day to show up and earn their support.”

Biden was endorsed this year by the Alliance for Retired Americans, which is holding weekly senior-to-senior phone banks and planning other events across battleground states.

Richard Fiesta, the organization’s executive director, said it also hopes to amplify another major Biden initiative this fall, when the administration plans to announce lower prices for 10 prescription drugs negotiated through Medicare, a key plank of the Inflation Reduction Act.

Fiesta said that ideally the efforts won’t help Biden just with seniors. There has been “a lot of discussion about getting the grandchildren and the nieces and nephews to sit up and pay attention,” he said.

Della Volpe said that what he calls a “zoomer-boomer” coalition of the youngest and oldest voters helped Biden win four years ago. But this year, “boomers may have to carry more of the weight than their grandchildren,” he said.

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Phone banks and pickleball: How the Biden campaign plans to court older voters (2024)
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