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No matter how they cast their ballots, the state’s 50-plus voters may decide election

During a recent AARP online discussion with suburban women, one participant described the 2020 election cycle, this way: “I’ve never been more worried in my voting life,” she said. “It feels yucky and scary and not safe.”

As the Nov. 3 election approaches, there’s no question many voters are wrestling with how to cast ballots safely in the midst of a resurgent pandemic.

New research from AARP shows 50-plus voters statewide are growing more worried about getting coronavirus as the winter approaches. Concerns about getting infected with the virus rose from 55 percent in a September AARP poll to 62 percent in October. Among voters age 65 and older, concern rose by 12 points, from 58 to 70 percent.

Those health concerns are important because voters 50 and up represent a significant constituency in Pennsylvania that candidates simply can’t ignore. In fact, 50-plus voters made up 60.8 percent of all voters statewide in 2018 and 55.6 percent in 2016.

Of course, the Nov. 3 election is also the first General Election allowing Pennsylvania voters to cast ballots from home — and many 50-plus residents are choosing to vote by mail. To date, more than 1.8 million of them have requested mail-in ballots for this election, representing some 62 percent of the statewide total.

The combination of growing health concerns and availability of voting from home are fueling major changes in how 50-plus voters are planning to cast ballots in this election. The AARP survey showed 61 percent of 50-plus voters will still be going to the polls on Election Day. But about 30 percent of voters age 50-plus either have already voted by mail or plan to do so.

As for who they are supporting? The race between President Trump and former Vice President Biden remains tight in Pennsylvania among 50-plus voters, with Biden leading by just 3 percentage points in the AARP October poll. Biden’s lead has been driven by voters age 65-plus, who favor the former vice president by 17 points.

Our polling data also shows that support for Social Security and Medicare unifies 50-plus voters. A significant majority of voters from both parties say that they are more likely to vote for a candidate who will protect Social Security (87 percent), strengthen Medicare (88 percent), and lower drug costs (90 percent).

While the pandemic may be fueling anxiety among voters, one thing that’s not in doubt is that Pennsylvania’s 50-plus residents will turn out for this election. They want their voices heard, and they will find a way to vote safely. If history is a guide, they will once again serve as the state’s largest voting bloc and will likely decide the outcome of the election.

Bill Johnston-Walsh is the Pennsylvania State Director of AARP.

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