The USA, (Brussels Morning Newspaper) Between now and the presidential election in November of 2024, we will hear endless speculation about whether or not Joe Biden is too old to run for a second term. To fully answer that question, we have to hold two thoughts in our heads at the same time.
First, of course, Biden is too old to run for a second term. In fact, midway through his first term, Biden is already showing signs of slowing down. The President will be 86 years old by the end of a possible second term. That is simply way too old for a job as demanding and rigorous as the presidency. Second, despite what the media is telling us, age Biden’s age is unlikely to be a major issue in the campaign.
Let’s start with the polls. There is a drumbeat of articles telling us that polls show most Americans think Biden is too old for a second term. These polls are probably accurate and are certainly consistent with a lot of anecdotal evidence I have encountered. However, the problem with these polls is that it assumes that because voters think Biden is too old, they will change their vote based on that view.
The polls tend to ask questions that do not directly connect Biden’s age with vote preference. For example, a frequently cited NBC poll from April found that 34% of respondents, and 48% of those who did not want Biden to run for reelection, cited age as the reason why they did not want him to run. Overall, fully 70% of respondents indicated they did not want Biden to seek reelection. At first glance, those numbers suggest that Biden’s advanced age gives him little chance of winning, but a closer look reveals something different.
First, Biden’s advanced age is the only reason, particularly for Democrats, to think Biden should not run, so the data point that most voters who don’t want Biden to run cite age as a reason is essentially a non-binding. Even the 70% not wanting to Biden to run is misleading because it is made up of a large proportion of Republicans-most Democrats, after all, did now want Trump to run for reelection in 2020-and a handful of Democrats who think Biden is too old.
A Yahoo poll from February asked the question about Biden’s age more directly and found that 65% of respondents, including 48% of Democrats and 85% of Republicans believed “Biden is too old to run for another term as president.”
Those numbers sound daunting for Biden as he seeks reelection, but they are essentially meaningless. Almost none of those Republicans who believe Biden is too old would be likely to vote for a younger Democrat, like Vice-President Harris, Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, or California Governor Gavin Newsom if they were the nominee of their party. In other words, while many Republicans think Biden is too old, that is not why they are voting against him. Those Republicans plan to vote against Biden because he is a Democrat.
Similarly, many Democrats who think Biden is too old will still vote for him because the alternative is worse. It is not inconsistent to have significant concerns about Biden’s age and still think a second Biden term is far preferable to sending Donald Trump, or any other Republican, to the White House.
There is another issue that will ameliorate some of the concerns about Biden’s age. He is very likely to be running against Donald Trump in the general election. Trump is only three-and-a-half years younger than Biden. Even casual observers can see that Biden is much sharper mentally than his slightly younger opponent. Trump’s cognitive challenges are even more apparent than the signs of aging that Biden is unquestionably showing.
Biden’s age will be more of an issue if, for some reason, Trump is not the nominee. An election between Biden and Trump will not highlight any contrast in cognitive ability between the two candidates, other than Biden being smarter and more articulate. However, the contrast between Biden and, for example, Asa Hutchinson, Nikkie Haley, or Ron DeSantis, all of whom are unlikely to take the GOP nomination away from Trump would be more stark. Even then, the question of how many votes will change because of the difference in ages between the nominees need to be raised. It is hard to imagine too many voters basing their decision around the age of the candidates rather than the stark differences on almost every major issue. For some, age may ultimately push them away from Biden, but that will be an extremely small number of voters.
The media is clearly clinging to the age issue, but perhaps they should explore some other questions. For example, “Do the American people really want a fascist president,” “How many indictments are too many for a potential president,” or “Do we really want to make abortion illegal across the country?” Those issues are all much more relevant to the outcome of the 2024 election than Joe Biden’s age.