Senior Citizens and the 2016 Election

How they get to the polls, who they are voting for and why their votes matter.

By Kailey Tracy and Paige Pauroso

“I think this has been the worst in all my voting and I’ve been voting since I was 18 years old,” Nanie Mae Patterson said.

The 97-year-old, who lives at Burlington Homes, a local senior living facility, has voted for the past 79 years. That’s 18 presidential elections, if you’re keeping track, with her first being in 1940. Democratic candidate Franklin D. Roosevelt ran for a third term against Republican Wendell L. Willkie. Patterson said she voted for Roosevelt, who beat Willkie by 367 electoral votes for his third term as president. This was the only time in history that a candidate was elected to a third term because of the 22nd Amendment passed in 1947, stating candidates can hold the office of president for no more than two years. Despite what Patterson calls negative energy surrounding this election, she said that she still plans on making it to the polls.

“I’m going to vote. I’m going to vote. To me, it’s always been real nice until this year,” she said.

Patterson said one of her friends will drive her to the polling center. She isn’t the only one in her age group finding a way to make it to the polls on election day. According to U.S. News Money Report, seniors turned out in high numbers for the 2012 presidential election. Seventy percent of the elderly voted, compared to fewer than 60 percent of the overall population. Just 37 percent of adults ages 25 to 44 voted, compared to 54 percent of those ages 45 to 64.

As age increases, so does the rates of voting. According to the U.S. Census, Americans ages 65 and older have consistently voted at higher rates than any other age group, with their attendance not dropping at all from 1978 to 2014. In the 2014 election alone, the voting rate for this age group was 59.4 percent. The age group that came in second for voter turnout was almost 10 percent lower, according to the Census.

U.S. News and World Report said these high voter turnouts among the elderly are due to their “vested interest in protecting the valuable benefits they receive from the federal government,” such as Social Security and Medicare.

“A lot of the benefits of our government go to older people,” Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University said. “The older people just have a greater interest in voting than younger people who don’t see the same benefits,” he said.

Seniors’ investment in elections has caused politicians to double check their stances on these issues and benefits, U.S. News said, to stay in-tune with these voters’ wants. None of the residents at Burlington Homes commented directly on benefits specific to the elderly. However, most of them agreed their vote holds significant weight.

“Every vote counts one way or another, so if you’re not willing to take the time to see who the individuals are and the right to vote is a privilege,” Maria Sharpe, 58, said.

“It’s [voting] something that we as a people have the right to do, and it helps us determine what our future is going to look like as a far as administration is concerned. And when you don’t do that, and do it collectively, it takes time away from yourself, but to know that you’ve participated in the decision, makes you feel better about who is sitting in the office. That’s good,” Melvin DuBose, 67, said.

Patterson, like many of the Burlington Homes residents, has lived in Burlington for awhile, 35 years to be exact. This “residential stability,” as U.S. News calls it, also contributes to the elderly’s large turnout. Each time someone moves addresses, they have to re-register to vote. The younger generation moves far more than the older, and either forgets to re-register, or simply doesn’t, according to U.S. News. Older voters, on the other hand, usually stay in one location and don’t have to re-register to vote, Leonard Steinhorn, author of “The Greater Generation: Defense of the Baby Boom Legacy,” said.

A study done by Yale and Harvard researchers found exactly what U.S. News concluded. Due to younger voters’ mobility, they are less likely to be registered to vote. “We have a residential-based election system and if you are less tied to a place, you are less likely to vote,” Eitan Hersh, coauthor on the study, said.

Mobility getting to the polls, something some may suspect to be an issue for senior citizens, doesn’t seem to be an issue, especially for those at Burlington Homes.

“A lot of them have their own cars and they tend to carry and pick each other up. They take a car load,” Aleashea Garrison, the service coordinator at Burlington Homes said.

Patterson is one of these residents who is finding her own ride. She said her friend will be driving her to the polls on November 8.

Others at Burlington Homes said they’ve either early voted, or sent in absentee ballots. In the case of those who do need transportation to polling sites on November 8, however, Garrison said the facility does provide transportation.

“A lot of them are adamant about voting, so I’m going to make sure they get to do that,” Garrison said.

And the residents at Burlington Homes aren’t alone getting out to the polls. Looking at the 2016 Presidential election, the elderly are still some of the most important and influential voters when it comes to deciding our next president.

Statistics seem to point to the trend that the older you are, the more likely you are to vote. This is why candidates in all elections spend a lot of campaign time on the elderly vote instead of millennials.

Clinton Ad appealing to war veterans
Trump answering question about social security to an AARP representative at a early campaign rally

So, the question for pollsters and campaign managers on both sides of the aisle is who senior citizens will cast their vote for.

The Pew Research Center conducted a survey in June 2016 where they asked participants, “If you had to choose between Trump or Clinton, who would you vote for?”

For the four age groups, which were 18–29, 30–49, 50–64, and 65+, the 65+ age group was the only one that had more people in support for Trump than Clinton. Although the difference between Trump and Clinton in the 65+ age group was only three percent.

And right here in Burlington, it’s also very close when it comes to discussing Trump and Clinton.

Brenda C. Glass voted in the last five elections and even threw a party when President Barack Obama won the election in 2008. “We cooked food and everybody got together and we got the big screen and it was just awesome.”

When she voted for President Obama, Glass said she felt like she was making history. Glass said it was an important day to her and for her family, who are all African-American. “I never thought we’d have a black president, but look what happened,” Glass said.

But during this election, she is concerned that people will only be voting in order to see another historical first president and not to support the right policies. “It makes you feel good, first woman candidate,” Glass said. “But I hope that she’s been voted for the right reasons and not because we want to make history.”

Others residents in Burlington Homes disagree with a women running for president. “The Bible says that a woman is supposed to stay silent and she’s supposed to rely on her husband,” Goldie Murphy, 70, said.

Murphy started voting only about ten years ago after someone told her that she wasn’t allowed to have opinions on politics unless she voted. Murphy, in one word, is opinionated.

Two of the things she is most passionate about is her devout religion and her hatred of Hillary Clinton. “She [Clinton] should keep her mouth shut and let a man run this world,” Murphy said.

Murphy was married to her husband for most of her life, until he died. And although she was forced to gain her independence living without her husband and children, she believes women still are secondary to men.

Murphy doesn’t just actively disagree with Clinton, she also supports Trump on his policies and platforms during his campaign. She believes that Trump will be a great president if he is given the chance to prove himself. “People say he’s crazy and he doesn’t know what he’s talking about,” Murphy said. “But when Obama first became President, he didn’t even know how to salute to our soldiers. Everybody’s got to learn, he had to learn just like Obama learned.”

But Murphy is not the only one is Burlington Homes with strong opinions.

John Sterling Alston, 75, is voting for Clinton and is not afraid to say why he despises Trump.

“Donald Trump is soulless, ice cold. He has ice running through his veins,” Aston said. He then continued saying, “So anybody in their right mind to vote for him has similar issues.”

Others are upset with both candidate options. Maria Sharpe, 58, and Roger Sharpe, 73, are fed up with this election, and said that it’s “frightening.” Roger Sharpe has been voting in presidential elections since he turned 18, but said this is the toughest decision he’s had to make so far. He said that he is registered as a Republican, but is going to vote for Clinton.

“We need to pull it together,” Roger Sharpe said. Maria chimed in after and said she’s scared of what they are leaving for the younger generation.

And even though the elderly population are key voters this election, Alston believes that eventually it will shift to a new generation. “Millennials are going to make the chance eventually. It may be awhile but they’re going to make the change,” he said.