2020 Election

Nearly 40% of Americans Think Presidents in Their 70s Are Too Old

3 minute read

President Donald Trump is 72. The Democratic frontrunner, former Vice President Joe Biden, is 76, while the runner-up, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, is 77. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren turns 70 next week.

Here’s some bad news for all of them: Nearly 40% of Americans think they’re too old for the job.

A recent Economist/YouGov survey found that 22% of respondents thought someone between the ages of 70 and 75 was too old to be president, while 17% felt 75 to 80 was too old.

The poll is significant because of a high number of older candidates in the historically crowded presidential field.

“Age is as much of a lens as anything else,” says Amanda Litman, co-founder of Run For Something, which recruits and trains progressive millennials to run for state and local office. “It is another way in which your lived experience can inform your priorities, not in the same way as race or gender, but certainly in the things that shaped you as you were coming of age and the way you understand how the economy works for people.”

That said, Americans also had some doubts about candidates who were on the younger side.

Thirty-seven percent of respondents said a candidate under 40 would be too inexperienced to do the job well. (South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, a surprise top-tier contender, would be almost 40 on Inauguration Day, as would Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard.)

The age of the current frontrunners is also a historical anomaly. Three of the last four Presidents — Trump, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton — were born in 1946. Sanders was born in 1941, Biden in 1942 and Warren in 1949. If any of them become President, or if Trump is re-elected, it will be a remarkable phenomenon of generational stasis: with the notable exception of Barack Obama, America will have had more than 30 years of presidents who were born in the 1940s.

At the dawn of the last century, things looked very different. Theodore Roosevelt was 42 when he became President in 1901, after the assassination of William McKinley. His successor, William Howard Taft, was 51. Woodrow Wilson, who came next, was 56. Nine presidents, including Kennedy, Obama, and Clinton, were in their 40s at inauguration, and 25 were in their 50s, including Johnson, Nixon, Lincoln and all of the Founding Fathers.

Donald Trump, who was 70 at his inauguration, was the oldest first-term President in history. Either of the Democratic frontrunners would break that record, and then some.

The survey of 1,500 adult citizens was conducted online June 9-11. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.6 percentage points.

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Write to Charlotte Alter at charlotte.alter@time.com