Loud honking pulls a parade of golf carts through Sun City. The wagons are decorated with American flags and signs showing their support for the Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. On the back of a golf cart is written in cow letters “grab him by the ballot”, grab him with the ballot. It is a reference to “grab em by the pussy”, a notorious woman-friendly statement by President Donald Trump.
The drivers of the carts are all over 65 people who wear mouthcaps with texts like VOTE. Here and there they are treated to raised middle fingers of residents who have Trump signs in their front yard.
Its bubbling in Sun City
Sun City, a senior community in the state of Arizona, is almost the cliché image of an idealized American community like the famous TV series Happy Days. The gardens are neatly raked and the streets are shining clean. On the driveways of the bungalows are mainly pick-up trucks. The main source of entertainment is the countless golf courses that the place has.
Apparently, these are oases of tranquility, but beneath the surface it bubbles. Such a golf cart parade with which residents express their support for a Democratic presidential candidate was unthinkable until recently. “I have been living in this elderly community for years,” says the Democratic voter Susan Chatterjee. “Four years ago, all you saw was Republican campaign signs in my neighborhood. Now the image is much more mixed. I estimate its even fifty-fifty.”
In America, they call it the grey wall: the line of defence of older voters to secure the re-election of President Trump. In 2016, Trump convincingly won the majority of over 65. Seniors are a voter group that traditionally leans towards the Republican side. The last time a Democratic presidential candidate got the majority of the elderly behind him was in 2000, when Al Gore ran for election.
Trumps approach pandemic to laconic
But among older voters, the doubt about Trump is growing. According to several voter surveys, many elderly people cross over to the Democratic presidential candidate. In one poll Biden had a head start of no less than 20 percentage points. In most other polls, the lead is smaller, but it is clear that Trump can no longer automatically count on the majority of over 65.
Theres only one explanation for that sudden shift: Trumps approach to the pandemic. A majority of American voters believe that the president has failed to get a hold of the coronavirus. That sentiment is particularly strong in the elderly, who are the most vulnerable group in the coronacrisis.
“ My husband and I had corona. Fortunately, we had mild symptoms, but a friend of ours died,” says Terry Watts, one of the participants in the golf cart parade. “For us, the coronavirus is not a joke. Its not a fabrication, its serious. Trumps handled it way too laconically. He didnt take it seriously.”
Republicans in Arizona are already seeing the mood. The state has been a Republican stronghold for decades and has only voted for a Democratic presidential candidate once since 1948. But the state is rapidly changing. In recent years, Arizona has attracted many young people and Latinos, two groups that vote predominantly Democratic.
In 2016, Hillary Clinton already smelled an opportunity here and spent a significant part of her campaign funds in Arizona. Trump would eventually win the state, but the difference between the Republican and Democratic presidential candidate had not been so small in a quarter of a century.
Elderly people can make a difference
Arizona also has relatively many pensionadoes looking for the sunny climate of this desert state. Lorna Romero is a Republican strategist in Arizona who served as spokeswoman for renowned Republican senator and former presidential candidate John McCain, who died of cancer in 2018. She thinks that older voters can make a difference this election year.
“ Trump has become less popular with people over 65 in Arizona is directly traced back to his approach to the coronacrisis,” concludes Romero. “Elderly people have been hardest hit by the pandemic. Many have fallen ill and are extra vulnerable. Seniors have not been able to see their families in the last few months because of the risks. They blame Trump for not taking the crisis seriously enough.”
Especially in Arizona, that could have consequences for the president. “The turnout among older voters is always high. Now Trump loses part of a voter group that goes faithfully to the polls. Thats very harmful to his campaign.”
For example, the voice of the American elders is no longer a defensive wall for Trump, but a gray wave that his campaign underwater threatens to put.