American Voters Concerned About Age Of Presidential Candidates – Analysis


By Matt Haines

Early primary results indicate that the 2024 U.S. presidential election will be a rematch of the 2020 contest between Joe Biden and Donald Trump, with voters choosing between someone who would be the country’s oldest president (Biden) or its second-oldest president (Trump).

Many voters are unhappy with the choice. An ABC News/Ipsos poll earlier this month found 59% of Americans think both presumptive nominees are too old to serve another term.

“Every indication seems to be that most Americans are not looking forward to a replay of 2020,” University of Georgia political scientist Charles Bullock told VOA. “If either party could come up with a quality, younger nominee, that person would win by a landslide.”

Connecticut mother Rebecca Urrutia agrees.

“The age of our candidates is extremely concerning,” she said. “It’s proof that our two-party system has completely crashed and burned.

“Are we voting for two men who are in their 80s, or are we voting for the people they’ve chosen to be their vice presidents?” she added. “The chance they won’t be able to finish their term because of dementia, senility or other health reasons isn’t unbelievable. Something in our system is broken, and we have to fix it.”

How did this happen?

Robert Collins, professor of urban studies and public policy at Dillard University in New Orleans, believes Americans feel like they’re not being given a real choice.

“For many of us, it feels like a Back to the Future situation,” he told VOA, referencing the 1985 movie. “It’s a choice between the same two old guys we had last time, and a lot of Americans are left wondering how this happened and if it means something is wrong with our democracy.”

Collins says the candidates’ advanced ages are an inconvenient accident rather than a trend.

“I don’t think anyone in the last few election cycles has said, ‘Let’s go look for the oldest guys!’” he said and laughed. “Rather, it just so happened that Trump’s message resonated most among Republicans, and that Biden was the compromise candidate from a 2020 primary field crowded with younger Democratic candidates.”

The University of Georgia’s Bullock believes structures of the American political system are partly to blame for candidates trending older.

“Some of this problem has to be attributed to the way Congress is elected,” he said. “Gerrymandering has created less competitive districts. That, in combination with no congressional term limits, means you have politicians who can stay in office for decades without ever being seriously challenged. The result is that much of our country’s leadership, not just our presidential candidates, are older.”

Potential impact

Regardless of the reasons, age is an issue in this election. Seventy-one-year-old Norma Rodrigues of Miami, Florida, says that’s not right.

“Just as age shouldn’t be an issue in any workplace when it doesn’t affect capacity, it shouldn’t matter in politics either,” she told VOA. “Rather, we should vote on traits like character, empathy and trustworthiness.”

Rodrigues says the rematch between two older candidates is not indicative of a broken political system, though it does highlight a flaw.

“I think it illustrates a lack of political engagement among younger generations of Americans,” she explained. “Maybe it’s caused by a deep disappointment with the candidates, or with what their elected officials have been able to accomplish after taking office.”

Age perception between the candidates

While the age gap between President Biden and former President Trump is less than four years, the gap in how Americans view their age is wide.

The ABC News/Ipsos poll that found 59% of Americans think both candidates are too old, and an additional 27% said only Biden is too old. In contrast, only 3% of Americans said only Trump is too old to serve again.

“Whether it’s fair or not, I think Biden reads to Americans as being older than Trump,” explained Collins from Dillard University. “His walk is a little stiffer, his speech is a little slower, and he’s more soft-spoken than Trump. It’s an issue his campaign needs to figure out how to fix.”

Democratic voter Deborah Theobald from the U.S. state of Georgia says age “is definitely a big issue for me in this election, but apparently these two are all we’ve got to choose between.”

“So maybe we should talk about competency instead,” she continued. “Biden surrounds himself with great people, and he has a vice president who, should she have to take over, is prepared. Trump, on the other hand, tried to hang his last vice president during his January 6 insurrection, and is overall incompetent at hiring. That’s why I’m voting for Biden.”

Theobald was referring to Trump’s failure to urge his supporters to stand down when they began chanting “Hang Mike Pence” during the January 6 riot.

Republican voter Jill Dani from Merritt Island, Florida, wants a younger candidate but will stick with Trump over Biden.

“I think the Republican Party needs a new face to lead the party, which is why I’ll vote for Nikki Haley in the primary,” Dani told VOA. “But if Trump beats her, you had better believe I’ll vote for him in the general election. This election, and getting rid of Biden and the Democrats, is too important to skip.”


The VOA is the Voice of America

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