Trump to Trump Voters: Drop Dead

New Census numbers show how costly it was for Trump to discourage mail balloting.

I’ve been known to point out now and then that America is a gerontocracy. Our political leaders tend to be very old—the current president, Joe Biden, is the oldest we’ve ever had, as was Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump. We get old presidential candidates (and members of Congress) because the electorate skews old—both because there are so many elderly Baby Boomers and because the elderly are so much more likely to vote than any other group. But the winner isn’t always the oldest candidate. Indeed, often not even the oldest voters favor the oldest candidate. Much more reliably, the oldest voters simply favor the Republican candidate.

Voters aged 65 and older favored Donald Trump in the November election, 52-47 percent, according to exit polls. The only other age group that gave Trump a clear majority was voters 50-64, who also favored Trump 52-47 percent. It was really important in 2020 for Trump to do really well among older voters, because he was never going to win younger voters. The over-65s represented 22 percent of the electorate in 2020, up from 16 percent as recently as 2016 (when Trump also won 52 percent of this group). The over-65s will continue to enlarge their share of the electorate in coming years.

Why am I telling you this? Because we can now state with greater certainty what we kind of knew at the time: It was very, very dumb of Trump to campaign against mail-in balloting. Republican officials around the country tried to warn him how dumb it was. Did he listen? Does he ever listen? Trump’s opposition to mail ballots was self-destructive because there was only one age group in 2020 that voted by mail more than it voted in person … and that was the over-65s. According to newly released Census data, (see above), a shade under 54 percent of this group voted by mail. Only about 39-40 percent of the other age groups did so.

(My friend Phil Keisling, former secretary of state in Oregon and a leading vote-by-mail evangelist, crunched the Census numbers and estimated the median age of voters in the 2020 election was 51.5. Voters 65 and older made up 25.69 percent of those who cast ballots, according to Phil’s analysis of the Census figures—which, Phil says, are better on age demographics than the exit poll data—as opposed to 24.2 percent in 2016. You get the point: The elderly slice of the electorate is growing.)

Another group that Trump won, Ryan Teague Beckwith and Gregory Korte note in the Baltimore Sun, was voters whose incomes exceeded $100,000. Trump won this affluent-to-rich cohort 54-42 percent. A pretty significant minority of this group (44 percent, per the Sun) voted by mail, too.

The only demographic for whom Trump’s decision to scorn mail-in balloting might have paid off was westerners. Biden did almost as well in the western states (57-41) as he did in the eastern states (58-41). Fully 79.1 percent of these Biden-loving western voters voted by mail; many of these states were “all-mail.” Given those circumstances, Trump likely preferred none of these people vote at all.