CORAL GABLES, United States (AFP) — People older than 60 represent a powerhouse voting bloc in the battleground state of Florida, and their zeal for the hotly contested US presidential election could tip the scales, experts say.
At The Palace retirement home in south Florida’s Coral Gables, election season has been a big deal, with residents holding debate-watching parties to discuss — and sometimes argue about — the candidates’ positions.
They plan to stay up late and watch the returns together on Election Night next Tuesday.
“This year, especially, our vote is definitely going to matter. It could push it one way over the other,” said Pamela Parker, who manages entertainment for the 200 elderly residents, 85 percent of whom are registered to vote.
Seniors already account for more than half the 4.5 million ballots cast so far in early voting in the state, according to Daniel Smith, a professor of political science at the University of Florida.
“Older voters disproportionately vote in Florida,” he said, noting they make up just over one-third (35 percent) of the state’s 13 million strong electorate.
So just how are the elder Americans voting inside the ballot booth?
It’s hard to say for sure, since early voters’ picks are not counted or made public until Election Day.
But experts are keeping a close eye on voters’ party affiliation for clues.
So far, about 100,000 more Republican seniors have voted than Democrats, according to Smith, who maintains a database on voter turnout that is updated daily.
“Not all go for Donald Trump, but certainly there is a lot of enthusiasm for Donald Trump,” said Smith.
Parker believes that older voters have “unfortunately been overlooked in the past.”
To make sure seniors can vote, particularly those with limited mobility, state election officials opened a polling place on site at The Palace, just a short trek from the dining room, one week before Election Day.
Many treaded slowly to the voting room, some leaning on wheeled walkers to steady their gait, but their sense of urgency was apparent.
“I think it is terribly important. Probably the most important one I have seen in my lifetime,” said Anne Sager, 89, who was elected mayor of Sarasota, Florida, in the 1980s and supports Hillary Clinton.
“Because I think the direction our country is going will be decided in this election for a long time to come.”
With an “I Voted” sticker affixed to her shirt, Sager said that protecting abortion rights was important to her, along with making sure Democrats get to pick justices to fill the current and any upcoming Supreme Court vacancies.
She also said she was pleased to cast her vote for a woman presidential candidate for the first time.
“I think it is a choice between the experienced public servant and really, policies that are unknown,” Sager said.
While seniors elsewhere in Florida may be more inclined to vote Republican, Parker said The Palace’s residents are tilting toward Clinton — though she herself does her best to remain non-partisan.
Rae Graham, 93, made no secret of her pick, wearing a T-shirt covered in dozens of pictures of Clinton’s smiling face.
“I love Hillary and I think she is going to be a wonderful president,” said Graham, before offering a pair of four-letter words to describe Trump.
Lee Adelson, 88, said he thinks the Republican billionaire presents a global danger, so he voted not only for Clinton, but for every Democrat on his ballot.
“Trump talks about building a wall to keep the Mexicans out,” he said. “If Trump wins, the Canadians are going to build a wall to keep the Americans out.”
Adelson pointed to another man who had also just voted and was chatting with friends over breakfast nearby, describing him as a Republican.
Later, the man confirmed to a visiting reporter that he was indeed a Republican, but said that he was not for Trump.
“I can’t talk any more, I have somewhere to be!” he said with a laugh as he disappeared into an elevator.