Poll: More older Iowans plan on voting absentee for general election

Older voters in Iowa are worried about COVID-19 and it may influence their methold of voting, an AARP poll shows. (Photo by Geber86/E+ via Getty Images)

More Iowans over 50 are planning on voting early for the upcoming general election compared to 2016, according to a poll released by AARP.

The poll also shows President Donald Trump and Republican U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst with narrow leads over their Democratic challenges among Iowa likely voters.

The poll, which surveyed Iowans between Aug. 30 and Sept. 5, found that 57% of likely Iowa voters over 50 plan on casting their ballots either through mail or early in-person, according to the poll, which was released Tuesday.

That’s a jump in comparison to the 49% of Iowans over 50 who voted early in 2016, said Brad Anderson, AARP Iowa state director.

“Eight points in Iowa in a state that is purple, where it is going to be close, is a very big deal,” Anderson said. “We’re going to have a lot of voters voting by mail for the first time.”

June’s primary saw a record number of absentee ballots, as well as total votes cast with a high of 530,000 voters participating in the election.

The AARP poll shows Democrats are more likely to vote by mail. Sixty-two percent of Democrats over 50 said they plan to vote by mail, in sharp contrast to only 30% of Republicans.

But Democrats are also more likely to be concerned about the safety of their ballots when voting by mail, according to the poll. Eighty-two percent of Democrats said they’re concerned about their ballot being counted, due to reductions at the U.S. Postal Service, while only 38% of Republicans said they were worried.

Republicans were more likely, however, to be worried about potential fraudulent votes.

“Any campaigns with a model in mind for turnout pre-pandemic better throw that model right out that door because it imploded for the primary and we expect the same for the general,” Anderson said.

U.S. Senate race remains close among Iowans over 50

Ernst, seeking re-election to a second term, has a 4-point lead over Democratic challenger Theresa Greenfield with voters over 50, according to the poll, which has a margin of error plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. Ernst is at 50%, while Greenfield sits narrowly behind at 46%.

President Donald Trump has a similarly narrow lead of 2 percentage points over former Vice President Joe Biden with 48% ahead of Biden’s 46%.

Among all likely voters, Ernst has a 5-point lead over Greenfield, 50% to 45%, while Trump remains at 2 percentage points over Biden, 47% to 45%.

But support for the candidates shifts depending on the age of the voter, according to the poll.

Iowans between 50-64 years old said they support Ernst, giving her 58% and Theresa Greenfield, only 37%.

But among seniors age 65 and older, Greenfield is ahead 55% to Ernst’s 41%.

For Iowans this year, COVID-19 concerns will be a new issue as voters hit the ballot box.

The majority of surveyed Iowans 50 and older said they are worried they or someone in their families will contract COVID-19, according to the poll. 

That concern could reflect the record number of older Iowans who are preferring to vote earlier than Election Day. Of those surveyed, 44% of Iowans over 50 said they plan to vote by mail, which is higher in comparison to 37% of all voters.

Though the majority of Iowans 50 and older are worried about COVID-19, there is a deep party divide between Republicans and Democrats related to the pandemic. Poll numbers show 78% of Democrats over 50 are worried about contracting the virus, while only 44% of Republicans over 50 said they were concerned about themselves or their families.

Beyond party lines, age also plays a factor in who is worrying about COVID-19. A  53% majority of Iowans between 50 to 64 years old said they were worried about the virus, while 62% of seniors who are 65 and older said they’re concerned.

That could play a role in the upcoming election, Ward said.

“They’re more concerned about it. They’re more at risk,” Ward said. “It is manifesting itself electorally.”