Experience and age factor in voters’ choice for president


Screenshot from YouTube

Sen. Bernie Sanders, former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren onstage at the September Democratic presidential debate.

Walker Ochs

Voters value experience when choosing a candidate for president, but they also have concerns about the age of the people they are voting for. According to polls, many Americans say age is an important factor in determining which presidential candidate to support.

The median age of American presidents upon their accession is 55 years, which is within the most preferred age range of 2020 Democratic primary voters. However, plenty of presidents have been elected far past this age range, with the oldest president to take office being the incumbent Donald Trump at the age of 70.

According to a recent AP poll, 73 percent of Democrats cited experience as something that would get them “excited” for a candidate. Experience was valued over various other factors including race, religion and gender.

The current front runners for the Democratic presidential nomination are Sen. Elizabeth Warren, former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders, according to recent polls. At the ages of 70, 76 and 78 respectively, this seemingly contradicts Democratic voters’ stated preference for candidates in the 50 to 60 age range.

Sanders won Story County, home to Iowa State, by 20 percent in the 2016 caucuses, demonstrating through real votes that his age did not dissuade younger Democrats from supporting him.

The same seems true for Republicans, the party of the nation’s two oldest presidents — Ronald Reagan and Trump. Republicans almost always field an older candidate than their Democratic counterparts.

Concerns about candidate health are frequently making headlines this election cycle, and it is an important issue to voters. Voters’ concerns about the age and health of a candidate do seem to be outweighed by their desire for overall experience, as the polling leaders for both Democrats and Republicans are more than 70 years old.

Age has been used as a weapon against older candidates. In the most recent Democratic debate, both Sen. Cory Booker and former Sec. of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro attacked Biden for his age, with Castro questioning Biden’s memory on stage.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke was questioned on Sanders’ fitness for office in the wake of his heart issues, and he responded by citing his energy and relentless campaigning as to why he was not concerned by the older candidate’s health.

“I have no fears about Bernie Sanders and [it] does not cause me any concern at all,” O’Rourke said.

Biden has also dismissed concerns about his age. Speaking with reporters in August, the former vice president said, “if [voters are] concerned, don’t vote for me.”