If the polls are a guide, the next president of the United States would be the oldest person ever to take that office, or close to it.
But for all the things that Americans care about when it comes to their presidents, age isn’t one of them, according to a McClatchy-Marist poll of 1,465 adults conducted Oct. 29-Nov. 4.
By huge margins, registered voters don’t mind if their presidents are over 65.
Seventy-one percent of voters consider age a benefit because leaders would bring wisdom and experience to the Oval Office. Twenty-four percent of voters think it’s a risk because after several years in office the president may not be up to the demands of the job.
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That’s good news for all four of the top polling candidates for the major-party nominations. Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders and Republicans Ben Carson and Donald Trump will all be 65 or older on inauguration day.
Two of them will be older than the nation’s oldest president, Ronald Reagan, who was 69 on inauguration day. Sanders will be 75, Trump 70.
Clinton will be the second oldest, at 69, about eight months younger than Reagan.
And Carson will be 65, which would make him the fourth-oldest chief executive, behind Reagan, William Henry Harrison and James Buchanan and just ahead of George H.W. Bush.
“Voters are not turning away from the baby boomer generation,” said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion, which conducts the survey.
Advanced age once raised questions about how well an older person would do in the demanding job. Reagan in 1980, Bob Dole in 1996 and John McCain in 2008 all sought to assure voters that they were up to the task. Reagan campaigned vigorously in 1980 to demonstrate his health and joked about his opponent’s “youth and inexperience” in 1984. Dole’s campaign released photos of him exercising on a treadmill. McCain boasted of hiking the Grand Canyon from rim to rim.
If voters shared the concern — they did elect Reagan twice by landslides over younger men — they’re definitely over it now.
Support for older candidates cuts across every demographic group including ideology, party, race, gender and income. Independents are slightly less likely to support an older candidate.
The experience of age, though, doesn’t automatically mean experience in government.
Clinton, a former secretary of state, and Sanders, a senator from Vermont, have spent decades in political life. Trump, a businessman, and Carson, a retired neurosurgeon, have no experience in elective office but long and accomplished careers elsewhere.
Next year’s race is not just confined to older candidates.
Two other prominent Republican candidates, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, both freshman senators, would be among the youngest presidents at 45 and 46, respectively, if they won. Barack Obama was the fifth youngest.
“Older candidates, they might be too idealistic of what is possible to change,” said Brianna Wells, 27, an independent voter from Athens, Ga., who works as a retail store associate.
“I think if we had someone in office who is old enough to have wisdom, maybe in their 40s, but young enough to have lived through jobs and housing crises, that would be a good middle ground,” she said.
Clinton’s husband, Bill Clinton, was the third-youngest president in American history when sworn in at age 46.
“If I had to choose, I would look more toward a younger candidate, because I think we need to move away from where we’ve been stagnating for the last three decades,” said Republican Ronald Christie, 69, a retiree from Orlando.