Fox News continues to flail around trying to lead a grassroots rebellion against public gathering restrictions during the pandemic, urging viewers to revolt in the name of "liberty" and "freedom." The rallies are often attracting crowds in the dozens, as polling shows most Americans, including Republicans, support the restrictions put in place to safeguard public health, and remain nervous about "reopening" too quickly without an effective vaccine, prompting a deadly second wave of the disease.
Not only is Fox failing to lead an uprising, but there's a campaign-defining voter migration underway in the last few months, as senior voters turn sharply away from Trump and in favor of Democrat Joe Biden. That's telling because Fox News' entire business model is built around attracting, and frightening, older viewers and to urge them to vote GOP. (More than half of Fox News viewers at any given moment are over the age of 65.)
The scary villains in the staged Fox News productions usually include Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Nancy Pelosi. Those mainstays have been replaced this spring by a deadly pandemic. Fox hosts are doing their best to downplay the threat while older Americans remain disproportionately at risk for coronavirus complications — the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates nearly 80 percent of all confirmed US Covid-19 deaths have been among those over the age of 65. That seems to have sparked a stampede away from Trump and his historic failure to protect Americans.
"Trump’s significant deficit among seniors shows up in poll after poll, nationwide and in key states, including surveys done by nonpartisan groups and by pollsters in both parties," the Los Angles Times reports.
Just look at Trump's must-win state of Florida. In 2016, he won voters over the age of 65 in the Sunshine State by 10 points. Today, he trails them by 17 points, according to a recent Quinnipiac University poll.
That represents a stunning 27-point swing in less than four years among the most important voting block in the country — seniors represented 25 percent of all active voters four years ago, and were key to Trump's very narrow Electoral College victory. Nationally, Trump won senior voters by nine points in 2016, according to the Pew Research Institute’s post-election study of voters. Today, he consistently trails among seniors by large margins in most national polls.
Democrats have lost seniors in every presidential race since 2004 by at least 5 percentage points. Al Gore in 2000 was the last Democrat to carry senior voters.
There's no evidence yet that Biden is specifically attracting older Fox News viewers. But the epic shift underway underscores how the right-wing cable outlet seems increasingly out of touch during the pandemic, and out of touch with a demographic that has been so loyal to Rupert Murdoch's enterprise.
Trump himself has rattled older voters as he shoves aside scientific experts and presents himself as some sort of pandemic savior, urging the unvaccinated public to do away with stay-at-home restrictions and assume the deadly virus will simply "wash away.” This, while nursing homes and assisted living care facilities have been ravaged by the disease.
There's no question the swelling coronavirus death toll hurts the GOP's chances in November. "The pandemic is going to take a greater toll on the conservative electorate leading into this election — and that’s simply just a calculation of age," Andrew Johnson, professor of management at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi recently told Politico. "The virus is killing more older voters, and in many states that’s the key to a GOP victory." Johnson and his colleague predict that approximately 11,000 more Republicans than Democrats who are 65 and older could die before the election in both Michigan and North Carolina.
Meanwhile, the right-wing outlet insists the virus threat is overblown. "Fox has been particularly deadly during this pandemic, with most of its prime-time hosts downplaying the danger and then lying about downplaying it, hyping Trump’s crackpot hydroxychloroquine cure," noted Joan Walsh in The Nation.
The cable channel this week sent wildly contradictory messages about the virus. After Trump claimed, without any evidence, that he was taking the potentially dangerous drug hydroxychloroquine to prevent contracting coronavirus, Fox News' Neil Cavuto immediately warned the channel's elderly audience that taking hydroxychloroquine is extremely dangerous and possibly deadly. A few hours later though, Fox News hosts Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, and Laura Ingraham continued cheerleading for the controversial remedy, assuring elderly voters there's nothing wrong with downing a few doses of the unproven drug.
"It’s Official: Laura Ingraham Wants Your Grandmother to Die," a Daily Beast headline announced.
If senior voters abandon Trump, that would open up additional electoral paths to the White House for Biden, putting key Republican-leaning states such as Arizona and Florida in reach. The voting trend could also prove catastrophic for the Republican Party as they try to hang onto control of the Senate.
There’s long been a media assumption that Fox News speaks for older voters in America. This election cycle, that bond is being broken.
There's been lots of campaign media hand-wringing lately about how Biden is trailing Trump in terms of online engagement and how the Republican is "winning the Internet" heading into November. But isn't that premise overblown since during the Democratic primary Biden ran against a candidate who was "winning the Internet" (Bernie Sanders), and Biden won the nomination in a walk.
At Vanity Fair, Peter Hamby offers up his interesting take with, "Why the Uncle Joe-Can’t-Internet Criticism Is Mostly Malarkey":
Biden can win if he understands that he doesn’t need to “win the internet” to win the White House—and that Trump is actually losing in the polls despite being an omnipresent force online. He can win if he understands that there isn’t even much of a distinction between online and offline anymore. Everything now is just media, no matter the screen, and the pandemic represents something of an opportunity, accelerating the need to reach voters on their phones and in their feeds, rather than through door knocks or rallies.