As senior citizens abandon Trump, Joe Biden spends big on TV ads to build on his lead with them

Bart Jansen, USA TODAY
·6 mins read

Democratic president nominee Joe Biden's most prolific television ad last week checked in on a variety of older Americans, a key demographic that polls suggest he is wrenching away from President Donald Trump.

In the ad, a woman looks at a laptop. A gray-bearded man appears pensive. An older man in a cap opens a shed door. Behind those images, the former vice president assures that he will rely on the best medical advice and scientists to protect them from COVID-19.

“Our seniors that are being hit the hardest, they’re frightened,” Biden said in the ad that aired more than 9,000 times during the week ending Oct. 9, according to the tracking firm Advertising Analytics. “I will not abandon you. It's a simple proposition folks: we're all in this together. We've got to fight this together."

The ad combined the themes that Biden has hammered throughout the campaign, focusing on the pandemic and on healthcare generally, followed by jobs and the economy, according to reports from the Wesleyan Media Project.

Biden will be able to hit those themes repeatedly during the closing weeks of the campaign because the challenger enjoys a huge cash advantage over the incumbent that will allowed him to double or triple spending on ads in recent weeks. But advertising won't necessarily dictate the winner, as Trump demonstrated in 2016 when Democrat Hillary Clinton outspent him.

Biden has spent $223 million airing television ads 356,366 times since April 9, according to the Wesleyan report. For comparison, Trump spent $161 million on 261,633 airings during the same period, the study found.

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden at the first presidential debate on Sept. 29, 2020, in Cleveland.
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden at the first presidential debate on Sept. 29, 2020, in Cleveland.

During September, Biden spent $153 million on television and radio ads, nearly tripling Trump’s $57 million, according to Advertising Analytics. But outside groups narrowed the difference to $189 million supporting Biden and $127 million supporting Trump, according to Advertising Analytics. Trump is also able to get his message out for free through televised rallies and speeches.

The gap narrowed as the campaigns head to the finish line, but Biden kept a significant advantage. From Sept. 28 through Oct. 11, Biden’s campaign spent nearly $56 million to air television ads 80,000 times while Trump’s campaign spent nearly $32 million to air ads 32,000 times, according to the Wesleyan study.

Trump has outpaced Biden throughout the campaign in online ads, although the challenger is catching up in the closing weeks. Trump has spent $165.8 million on ads on Facebook and Google since mid-April and $33.8 million since late September, according to the Wesleyan study. By comparison, Biden spent $130.1 million on online ads since mid-April and $34.7 million since late September, according to the study.

'Startling' shift: Trump losing with older voters in key states

Biden’s push for older voters reflects what one pollster called a "startling" shift in opinion from 2016, when senior voters helped propel Trump to the White House. Trump won voters who were at least 65 years old by 52% to 45% over Democrat Hillary Clinton, according to CNN exit polls.

But Biden leads Trump by 8 percentage points – 52% to 44% – among voters at least 65 years old, according to a Morning Consult Political Intelligence tracking poll released Thursday. The poll of 16,045 likely voters conducted Oct. 9 to 11 had a margin of error of up to 2 percentage points.

Biden was supported by a majority of older voters in key battlegrounds of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, according to state-level Morning Consult polls from Oct. 2 to 11. But Trump was favored by older voters in Georgia and Texas, and the candidates are virtually tied among seniors in Arizona, North Carolina, Ohio and Florida, according to Morning Consult.

Another set of polls from from Quinnipiac University released Oct. 7 found that Biden led Trump among older voters by 15 points in Florida, 19 points in Pennsylvania and 25 points in Iowa.

“Among older Americans, it’s a startling drop of support,” said Tim Malloy, Quinnipiac polling analyst, who called the results "a big red flag for the president." “You might draw the conclusion that they’re disenchanted with the handling of the coronavirus by the president, as are the majority of Americans."

Democratic presidentia nominee Joe Biden speaks during a drive-in rally in Miramar, Florida on October 13, 2020. Biden is courting elderly Americans who helped elect President Donald Trump four years ago but appear to be swinging to the Democratic candidate this time.
Democratic presidentia nominee Joe Biden speaks during a drive-in rally in Miramar, Florida on October 13, 2020. Biden is courting elderly Americans who helped elect President Donald Trump four years ago but appear to be swinging to the Democratic candidate this time.

Biden brought his message to older voters personally Tuesday with a visit to southern Florida, a key swing state. Biden has accused the president of reckless behavior in shirking mask wearing and social distancing, and in reviving tightly packed campaign rallies soon after recovering from COVID-19.

"His reckless personal conduct since his diagnosis is unconscionable," Biden told older voters in Pembroke Pines.

The trip was Biden's third to Florida during the general election. The importance of the state was reflected in Trump and Vice President Mike Pence each visited Miami on Thursday.

Healthcare and senior citizens have been common themes in Biden ads. During September, Biden mentioned the virus in half his ads and healthcare in 41% of the ads, according to the Wesleyan Media Project. Other subjects Biden focused on including Social Security mentioned in nearly 30% of ads, taxes mentioned in 22% and Medicare in 20%.

In recent weeks, 37% of Biden's ads mentioned taxes, 32% infectious diseases 32%, 31% Social Security and 31% seniors, according to another Wesleyan report.

Biden ads focus on Social Security, Medicare

One ad targeting older Americans warned that Trump would cut Social Security and Medicare. "Donald Trump is lying about Medicare and Social Security," the ad says. "The choice is clear."

Trump's campaign accused Biden of lying about the president's proposals for the entitlements. And Trump's ads highlight his support for Social Security and older voters, too.

"President Trump protected Social Security and Medicare," the ad states.

Philip Fortman (2nd-L) makes a photograph as he and his wife Karen Fortman listen to Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden deliver remarks about his ‘vision for older Americans’ at Southwest Focal Point Community Center October 13, 2020 in Pembroke Pines, Florida.
Philip Fortman (2nd-L) makes a photograph as he and his wife Karen Fortman listen to Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden deliver remarks about his ‘vision for older Americans’ at Southwest Focal Point Community Center October 13, 2020 in Pembroke Pines, Florida.

The Biden campaign released a handful of ads Oct. 9 across 16 states that covered rebuilding the economy, respecting farming and stressing the importance of manufacturing and unions.

Biden also targets Latinos by featuring retired Army Sgt. 1st Class Paul Cruz, who conducted military funerals and said Trump was disrespectful for calling troops “suckers” and “losers." Trump has denied reports that quoted him using those terms.

Biden said in one of his latest Google ads targeted for Pennsylvania and North Carolina that nearly one in six small businesses is closed, but that he would lead the country out of the recession.

“Trump took a good economy and drove it back into the ditch,” Biden said.

Biden’s running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris of California, is featured in an online ad from her vice presidential debate Oct. 7. She cites the 210,000 dead Americans and 7 million infected with coronavirus while 30 million workers filed for unemployment and frontline workers were treated as sacrificial.

“The American people have witnessed what is the greatest failure of any presidential administration in the history of the country,” Harris said in the ad targeted for Florida, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Minnesota.

In the final three weeks of the race, as early voting has begun in many states, the campaign is focusing more on getting out the vote.

One online ad featuring Harris, the first Black woman and Asian American woman on a national ticket, asking why there is “so much effort to silence our voices.” Harris said when people vote, things change, and she said the campaign was counting on support to “help move the country forward.”

Contributing: Joey Garrison

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Election 2020: Biden uses TV ads to build on lead with senior citizens