Trump and his Democratic opponent Joe Biden now split American voters aged 55 years and older almost evenly: 47 percent say they are voting for Biden on November 3 while 46 percent back Trump, according to Reuters/Ipsos national surveys in September and October.
That could be an alarming sign for the president, who trails Biden with 25 days to go before the election.
Republicans have relied on the support of older Americans in national elections for years, routinely benefiting from a demographic that consistently shows up in force on Election Day.
Trump won the 55-plus age group by 13 percentage points in 2016, according to exit polls. Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential nominee in 2012, achieved the same margin.
Reuters/Ipsos state polls also show Biden outperforming Hillary Clinton, the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, among older voters in a handful of battleground states, where seniors make up an outsized proportion of the electorate.
Winning those states will be critical to the outcome of the 2020 race: Whoever takes the most battleground states will be on track to win the Electoral College and the White House.
Biden is beating Trump among older voters in Wisconsin by 10 points and drawing about the same amount of support as Trump is with that demographic in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Florida and Arizona, according to the state polls conducted in mid-September and early October.
Four years ago, Trump won older voters in each of those states by 10 to 29 points.
Half of the older voters in the five battleground states blamed the high number of COVID-19 cases and deaths in the country – nearly 7.6 million cases and more than 210,000 deaths – on “poor leadership and policy decisions from president Trump”, the polls show.
Randy Bode, 59, a Republican in Douglas, Arizona, who voted for Trump in 2016, said he was disappointed with Trump’s suggestion that people could protect themselves from COVID-19 by drinking bleach.
“He shouldn’t be saying the things he’s saying” about the coronavirus, he said.
Bode, who is now undecided, is also concerned about Trump’s efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act and how that would leave millions of Americans without health insurance during a health crisis.
“He’s had four years to come up with a plan, and he hasn’t done it,” he said.
Trump’s standing with older Americans has deteriorated this year as the novel coronavirus swept the country, closing thousands of businesses and overwhelming the health care system that seniors rely on more than others.
Sixty-one percent said this week in a national Reuters/Ipsos poll that they disapprove of the president’s handling of the coronavirus, up 12 percentage points from May. And Trump’s net approval for his response to the virus dropped among all Americans to its lowest level since Reuters started asking the question in early March.
Among older Americans, 83 percent were concerned about the threat that the coronavirus poses to their personal health and safety.
Trump’s contraction of the virus has added to the worries about his mishandling of the pandemic.
On October 2, Trump revealed that he and the first lady, Melania Trump, had tested positive for the coronavirus.
On Thursday, however, Trump’s physician said the president had completed his course of therapy for the coronavirus, had remained stable since returning to the White House, and could return to public engagements today (on Saturday).
Dr. Sean Conley said in a memo released by the White House that Trump had responded “extremely well” to treatment.
Virtual debate refusal
News of Trump’s recovery comes as he has refused to take part in a virtual TV debate with Biden.
The commission organizing the debate in Miami on October 15 said it would have to take place remotely after Trump tested positive for coronavirus.
Trump's refusal sparked a day of wrangling about how and when any further debates would take place.
At the moment, it appears a debate could take place on October 22, although in what form remains to be seen.
The first presidential debate on September 29 had descended into insults and interruptions. The vice-presidential debate, held on Wednesday night between Mike Pence and Kamala Harris, was a far more measured affair.