This week I wanted to write about something that probably will not matter at all. A recent poll from Quinnipiac found that 65% of registered voters think that President Biden is too old to serve a second term as president of the United States.
President Biden is 80 years old. In 2020 he became the oldest person elected president at 78 years and 61 days. That is above the median age of presidents across time but that statistic should be taken with a grain of salt as advances in medical science have extended the average lifespan of people in general. There does appear to be something about that year, 80, that motivates this opinion. Only 36 percent of registered voters in that same Quinnipiac poll said that former President Trump is too old to serve as president. President Trump would be 78 if elected to a second term. He would be the second-oldest person to serve as president if elected in 2024 and only the second person, after President Biden, to serve in their 80s.
The Constitution does mention age when discussing the presidency but it is unhelpful in this instance. The presidency has a minimum age requirement, 35 years old, but no maximum.
Does this matter electorally? Probably not. We should always remember that pool questions like Quinnipiac’s exist in a vacuum and give us very little information on what will actually motivate voters. For instance, will Biden’s age of 81 motivate people to vote against him if he is running against a 78-year-old Trump? Readers should also be aware that the group of voters most likely to be concerned about the age of presidential candidates are the youngest voters and they are some of the least likely group of voters to abandon Biden for Trump. Voters are allowed to take whatever they wish into consideration when choosing a candidate and the president’s age is not off-limits. The last race when age was an issue was in 2008 when there was a wide gulf in age and experience between the candidates John McCain and Barack Obama.
Does this matter practically? Your opinion is probably influenced by your own age. President Biden was born during the Second World War. The world he grew up in is fundamentally different from the world we live in today. Then again many of you reading this column may have been born during the 1950s or earlier and you may not feel out of touch. I certainly am not arguing that you are, but even I have faced criticism from my students because of my age and I haven’t hit 40 yet. The issue for Republicans is that to take advantage of this discontentment they need to provide a viable alternative. While polling today says that people see a difference between President Biden and President Trump’s age, are they going to do that in 18 months? I find that hard to believe given that they are less than four years apart. I could obviously be wrong but age ultimately did not come up when these two candidates faced each other in 2020.
If this poll does not matter, then why write about it? Because as the presidential election season ratchets up you are going to see a lot of polls that have information that looks bad for one candidate or another that may not matter. Age could matter but if both candidates are over 75 it probably will not. A voter might disapprove of the job done by President Biden but if they also disapprove of the job done by President Trump then it might not matter. A voter may disapprove of President Biden’s taxation policy but if they view Trump’s behavior on Jan. 6 as disqualifying, then they might still vote for him.
The polls you see over the next 18 months are going to be full of white noise. Whenever you start to think, “Could President Biden’ age really impact the 2024 outcome?” take a deep breath and turn off the television. As more information is released over the next few months you should take it all with a grain of salt. Even horse race polls that put Biden against prominent Republican challengers like Trump and DeSantis should be viewed skeptically this far out. Polling may look official but sometimes it is up to the readers to know when it is officially just hot air.
David Searcy holds a master’s degree from Oklahoma State University and a PhD in political science from Southern Illinois University.