Older White Voters Helped Trump Win; Now They're Up For Grabs Polls suggest movement in this key demographic toward Joe Biden, but some white seniors in battleground states tell NPR they're sticking with the president.

Older White Voters Who Helped Trump Win May Be In Play

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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Four years ago, older white voters played a big role in helping elect President Trump. But some polls now suggest Joe Biden is making inroads with seniors, in part because of Trump's handling of the coronavirus. Still, many of these older, more conservative voters say they're deeply conflicted about how to vote this November. Some tell NPR they're sticking with Trump. NPR's Brian Mann has more.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: America's population gets more diverse every year, a trend that mostly favors Democrats, which is why older white voters are so important to Donald Trump. Robert Griffin with the Democracy Fund Voter Study Group says Trump actually needs even more support from seniors to win a second term.

ROBERT GRIFFIN: It's not just that Trump had to sort of hold steady. He actually had to increase his margins a bit relative to 2016 - again, just given how the country is changing demographically.

MANN: President Trump's victory in some battleground states in 2016 was razor-thin, so losing even a little support from older white voters in, say, Florida or Pennsylvania could cost him big. And Joe Biden is working hard to make that happen. Here's one of the Democrat's ads featuring a retired voter named Donna talking about the impact of COVID-19 on seniors.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD, "DONNA")

DONNA: While I don't blame Donald Trump for the virus, I blame him for his lack of action.

MANN: The group Republican Voters Against Trump is webcasting testimonials from older Republicans - voters like Joseph in Florida who say they're switching to Biden.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOSEPH: It's OK that we voted for Donald Trump in the first election. We now have seen what he can do and especially what he can't do.

MANN: Polls suggest more seniors are feeling this way. So NPR reached out to a random group of older voters who cast ballots for Trump in 2016. Many told us they are deeply troubled by the president's behavior.

Marty Stango is 77 years old and lives near Jacksonville, Fla.

MARTY STANGO: He's not exactly the most trustworthy individual, nor, in fact, does he always tell the truth. He definitely will throw out things that are absolute lies.

MANN: And here's Doris Harrington. She's 82 and lives in Des Moines, Iowa.

DORIS HARRINGTON: I don't want to judge other people, but I really don't think his character is great, you know? His morals are not my morals.

MANN: We heard this again and again. A lot of seniors who backed Trump four years ago say they're really tired of his tweets. They hate his use of profanity, and many rate him poorly on his handling of the coronavirus. But NPR heard something else from these voters - a reminder just how hard it is these days to actually change people's votes. Marty Stango in Florida, who thinks Trump's a liar - he's not switching to Joe Biden.

STANGO: Right now, at least, I'm for Trump.

MANN: Doris Harrington in Des Moines agrees. For all her misgivings about Trump, she's actually enthusiastic about a second term.

HARRINGTON: Trump, even though his character might be bad - he is supporting religious freedom, religious rights, right to life. The Democratic Party are not.

MANN: A lot of older Trump voters told NPR they like Joe Biden, but they think his party has moved too far to the left. This is a voting bloc that's far more white and rural than the country as a whole. And many told NPR they're troubled by Democrats' embrace of the Black Lives Matter movement. Robin Tunnel, who's 64 and lives in Midlothian, Texas, told us she thinks Trump is unpresidential and a bully, but he shares her views on race.

ROBIN TUNNEL: I just don't understand this kneeling for the flag. I think that that is just horrible, and he would never do that. Trump would never do that.

MANN: NPR did find some older white Trump voters who say his behavior has caused them to waver. They're giving Biden a serious look. Michael Barbone, who's on the edge of this senior voting group at age 59, lives in Odessa, Fla.

MICHAEL BARBONE: Today, I would vote for Donald Trump, but the strength of my confidence is waning. So it could definitely change.

MANN: Pollster Robert Griffin says the data doesn't suggest a huge shift among seniors who voted for Trump, but he thinks it's clear there is enough softening of support to put Trump's reelection at risk.

GRIFFIN: The reality that it's happened appears to be confirmed by a lot of different pollsters. That's really problematic for him.

MANN: But the polling data and NPR's interviews suggest this is one key group of voters still in play, still reachable by both sides with just over two months to Election Day.

Brian Mann, NPR News.

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