“I swear [Trump’s] trying to eradicate all baby boomers.” –Cynthia Herring Salvetti, comment on Facebook.com/Respectful Exits
The 2020 election will be decided by swing state voters like Ms. Salvetti, especially in Florida.
Seeing the election in the balance, Trump has taken the gloves off. He has chosen to go all fear, all the time, targeting those 55+. He promotes fake fears that fan the flames of racism and nativism, fears of urban marauders and MS-13 as neighbors.
To many of us it may seem like lie upon lie, but in these anxious times fears systematically inflated can drive susceptible people—especially anxious elders—to the polls. Yet we don’t counter his hysteria by relentlessly highlighting the actual and far more deadly threats and fear stalking the country, from viral death and murder-by-cop to joblessness and evictions.
Trump’s opponents emphasize COVID and jobs and the lack of decency and empathy, but ignore his systematic cruelty toward much of his base and the most reliable voting bloc in the country: voters over 55.
We note casually the massive and mounting COVID death toll in nursing homes and assisted living facilities—up to 70,000 people and counting. Yet we fail to call this catastrophe what it is: genocide, defined by Meriam-Webster as “the deliberate and systematic destruction of a racial, political or cultural group.” The unspoken narrative is that warehoused older people as a group don’t really matter. Their predictable elimination has become normalized and acceptable.
Presiding passively over the death of so many older Americans reflects indifference, cruelty and failure on a massive scale. Urgent production and provision of PPE, evacuation to a hospital ship or seizure of high mortality facilities could have happened months ago, but didn’t. And the death toll continues. At a certain point, sustained neglect becomes intentional death.
And for those who survive COVID, Trump has finally dropped his false promise to “not touch your Social Security or Medicare,” proposing instead to eliminate the payroll tax, the dedicated funding mechanism for these programs. In a ploy reminiscent of Mexico paying for the wall, he assures his credulous followers that the money will be made up out of the already-stretched general fund. Mirage that it may be, unless we fight back, the fearful and gullible buy it.
Our aggressive Facebook campaign
Trump’s ruthless carnage cannot go uncontested. Defenders of older Americans must meet this combative moment with a fierce commitment to hand-to-hand battle within the 55+ cohort. While most Democratic campaigns still rely heavily on the pricey, one-way messaging of expensive TV ads, Trump and his friends, the Russians, discovered long ago the power of Facebook and social media to wage persuasive and interactive campaigns powered by everyday people and their natural networks.
During the four nights of Republican infomercial broadcast from the White House, there was no mention of older Americans and the risk that COVID and the elimination of Social Security posed to their futures. Post-convention, RNC and Trump campaigns launched a massive digital initiative to deepen their messages, continuing this omission. Did opponents respond?
We did. Respectful Exits began testing its Facebook campaign among 55+ voters in Florida in June. Our ongoing campaign to give voice to aging workers and retirees recognized that older voters would play an outsized role in the 2020 election. We assumed that Trump would finally abandon his pledge to protect Social Security and present the opposition with a golden opportunity to engage and win over swing state voters.
Florida offers the perfect place to take on and defeat the anti-elder Trump:
- 22% of Florida’s voters are over 55, and are the most reliable voting cohort
- Millions of Floridians use Facebook, with COVID-inspired traffic up dramatically
- They chose Trump over Clinton in 2016, but his COVID failures give Biden a lead
- Millions of pre-retirees and retirees depend on Social Security to survive
- It is almost impossible for Trump to win the Electoral College without Florida
Already beginning to abandon Trump because of his failure to protect them from death by COVID-19, the threat to Social Security is creating a real opening. According to a recent Data for Progress poll:
“[P]reventing cuts to Social Security benefits ranked highly among voters’ priorities, with 54% stating that protecting that income stream is crucial. Meanwhile, 29% said universal healthcare is a top concern, while 26% said raising the minimum wage is a major issue they’ll be looking at when they hit the polls.”
Explicit threats to end the payroll tax can erode his support.
The Detailed Results of our Campaign to Date – and an Investment Pitch
So far our early results show a significant wave of engagement and interest in our Social Security outreach on Facebook:
Page Like Ads:
These are ads that are designed to make people aware of the Respectful Exits page and encourage them to join our community by liking our page. We are testing different messaging around Social Security and age discrimination among Florida Facebook users aged 55+. (Facebook shows a total of 450,000 older Floridian voters with an interest in Social Security.) The prototypical ad campaign has been running for two months, during which:
- We have reached a total of 101,000 people
- We have 4,925 page likes. Again, these are people who have elected to join our community because they want more content from us and want to join the conversation
- Our new videos have been rated by Facebook as above average in engagement
- Our cost per like is $0.99—in standard advertising terminology that means we are paying $0.99 per customer acquisition, a very good number for Facebook marketing which suggests significant return on additional campaign dollars we invest in the crucial final months.
This is content we post on our page to engage more deeply with our community. Our Social Security specific content has had above average engagement in comparison to similar content on Facebook:
- We’ve reached 23,880 people
- 8,895 people have engaged with the content (meaning they commented, liked, or shared it)
- Our August video posts of Trump vs. Biden on Social Security and a critique of the payroll tax reached 20,000 people, garnering 250 shares and 275 comments
- This demonstrates our ability to engage in in-depth persuasion within the community
While it is early in our campaign, some preliminary findings have become clear:
● There is an above average amount of interest in our Social Security-focused content
● The response to our Social Security content has highlighted some major themes:
- The clear majority of the hundreds of comments on our page can be reliably paraphrased as: “This is our money, we paid into it and the government should keep their hands off of it.”
- There is an unusual level of conversation and sophistication on this issue, with some commenters leading very high level discussions on the ongoing threats to the program.
- Trump’s propaganda is working, but there is an opening for a vigorous, fact-based argument about the danger of the payroll tax cut.
- Regardless of presidential preference, most commenters share a dangerously inaccurate perception of political party track records on this issue. While over the decades Democratic leaders have been generally supportive and Republicans leaders generally critical, many people seem to view Republicans and Democrats as equally responsible for threatening Social Security.
- Trump’s unorthodox primary campaign promise to protect Social Security seems to have been accepted by his older base, with many people highlighting him as its only savior. There are some folks who doubt that promise but a greater number defend him. Our experience to date suggests that Democrats who believe that they dominate this issue do so without the data to back up this assumption.
Dig deep and protect your Social Security
Our prototypical Florida campaign can be ramped up to have a greater and perhaps decisive impact. We have completed the heavy lifting of building the infrastructure and perfecting the messaging of a persuasive campaign. A major investment now can achieve significant results. With sufficient funds we can duplicate this campaign in the other battleground states quickly and inexpensively.
The economic future of our generation is at stake. Make the largest contribution you can at this crucial moment, to preserve and protect the hundreds of thousands of dollars owed you and the millions of other Social Security beneficiaries who deserve a sustainable retirement. Let’s retire Trump and stop the genocide.