How old is “too old” to be president? Most Americans think people aged 80 and older should not be in the running, according to polling from The Independent and JL Partners.
But 26 per cent – roughly one in four respondents – believe 60 or 70 is too old, meaning a quarter of Americans think current candidates Donald Trump, 74, and Joe Biden, 77, are too old to be president.
A threshold of 80 years old is also the consensus among younger people – 52 per cent of respondents aged 18-24, and 30 per cent of people aged 25-34.
The share of people who believe 80 is “too old” is similar among older respondents as well – 39 per cent of people aged 65 and older and 42 per cent of people aged 45 and older agree that people age 80 and above should not hold executive office.
Based on voting history, 34 per cent of people who supported Hillary Clinton in 2016 agree that 80 is “too old,” while that figure is at 46 per cent for Trump voters.
JL Partners surveyed 1,002 using an online poll between 26 and 28 October using a nationally representative sample weighted on age, gender, education, race and 2016 vote.
Whoever wins the 2020 presidential race will be the oldest president in US history – Mr Biden will turn 78 less than three weeks after Election Day.
The current presidential line of succession includes 80-year-old House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and 87-year-old Senate president pro tempore Chuck Grassley. The average age of the House of Representatives is more than 57 years old, while in the Senate, that figure is nearly 62 years old, among the oldest in US history.
Mr Biden and Mr Trump have faced intense scrutiny over their health; the president’s aides and physician gave conflicting, evasive answers about his condition after he was hospitalised with the coronavirus in October, while his campaign has attacked his opponent as a confused elderly man.
While most Americans are living longer and healthier lives, the 2020 elections will likely be the last in which a majority of voters are baby boomers. Millennial voters and similar-in-age groups will represent a larger share of the voting population by 2024.
But in 2020, nearly a quarter of the electorate is 65 and older, the highest since 1970, according to Pew Research.
By next year, baby boomer and older generations will account for fewer than 40 per cent of eligible voters, the group found.
“The health and longevity of presidential candidates and sitting presidents is important regardless of age,” according to Stuart Jay Olshansky, who authored a recently published study with a team of researchers to review health claims from the presidential candidates.
“Questions have been raised as to whether voters should accept a presidential candidate’s declaration of health at face value,” according to the report. “A candidate of any age that is harbouring a lethal known condition that is likely to lead to death while in office, or a high risk for cognitive impairment that could influence the ability to discharge the powers and duties of the office, could influence an election outcome.”
While there is heightened scrutiny about the candidates’ health and age ahead of Election Day, there still is not enough evidence that voters “have prioritised age as a deciding factor in determining who is the best candidate to lead this country for the next four years,” according to Dr Karen Bullock, who leads North Carolina State University’s Department of Social Work.
“In the US, we have fought long and hard against stereotypes, mislabeling, ageism, sexism, racism and other actions of actions of discrimination and prejudice,” she told The Independent.
In that sense, she said, the candidates “are a reflection of our collective belief that we should judge people solely by the evidence of merit and morals … irrespective of the antiquated belief that older age impairs one's cognition and competence to lead this country,” she said.