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The 2020 DNC primaries came down to Biden and Sanders, who would be taking office at 78 and 79.

In 2016, it was down to Clinton and Sanders, at 69 and 75.

Prior to that, the oldest president in the history of the US was Reagan, who took office at 69.

This is a histogram of US presidents' ages when they took office (*): enter image description here

The median US residents' age has been increasing about 1 year per decade, since 1960s (a much slower trend), so that doesn't explain the sudden uptick in candidates' ages.

What's going on here? If someone had asked me in 2017, I'd predict the opposite societal trends, because of social media that worships youth more than old media (TV) did.

Two plausible explanations that I can think of:

  • social media and smartphones somehow had the opposite effect (If so, how?)
  • DNC wants to look like it's putting up a fight, but it actually wants to lose, or rather, doesn't care about winning as much as one might think (I'm not saying I subscribe to this theory, but it's popular in some circles)

but maybe there is something else.

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    I think a plot of age at inauguration over time might be a bit more helpful to demonstrate your point. Though the histogram does put into perspective how Clinton, Trump, Biden, and Sanders are all at the far right of the bellcurve here – divibisan Sep 18 at 4:26
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    To make any sensible conclusions you would need the general life expectancy and age of people in other leadership positions to show of the presidency is following or bucking general trends. – Jontia Sep 18 at 4:40
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    Here's a useful table/timeline: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… – Palbitt Sep 18 at 5:43
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    Three of the five oldest presidents at inauguration are recent (Trump, Reagan, and George H.W. Bush). On the other hand three of the five young presidents at inauguration are also recent (JFK, Clinton, and Obama). Or maybe four (Teddy Roosevelt) if 120 years ago counts as "recent". Extrapolating from a sample size of one or two is a bad idea. – David Hammen Sep 18 at 9:16
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    @Palbitt Not enough data there to really establish a trend line. Reminds me of this graph: atmo.arizona.edu/students/courselinks/fall15/atmo336/lectures/… – SurpriseDog Sep 18 at 17:13
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+300
  1. Politics in the USA have become extremely polarized along ideological lines. This is at least partly a result of the rise of the power of social media, but I won't go into that.

  2. Because of the polarization, there is a lot of disinformation around and as a result a huge lack of trust in general: in politics, in the media, and everything else.

  3. For that reason, the main parties are selecting candidates that are familiar faces. Even if they are not well-liked, at least we know who they are, and we roughly know what to expect from them.

  4. In a sense, the constant ratcheting up of rhetoric has led to a sort of death spiral, where the only remaining measure of trust is age.

That's my theory. Could be nonsense. Discuss.

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  • #3 definitely seems wrong to me; Trump was a well-known celebrity in 2016, and it was probably common knowledge that he had political ambitions, but he was running against several behemoths in his party including a couple who had been favored for the '16 nomination as far back as 2011. – slondr Oct 1 at 3:40
  • @maybe Yeah, I'm not suggesting that this logic explains everything. Clearly he had some favorable aspects compared to the other RNC candidates. In my view that was his good understanding of the media and social media and the demographic that he wanted to gain support from. – makelemonade Oct 1 at 9:23
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Regardless of the outcome, the President inaugurated on January 20, 2021 will be "old". This is a one-time hiccough; the 2020 election will be an anomaly. When it comes to statistics, the best thing to do with anomalies oftentimes is to throw them out. A plethora of statistical techniques for detecting and rejecting anomalies exist because extrapolating from a sample size of one is a very bad idea.

The key driving metric, and perhaps the only driving metric, in the 2020 Democratic presidential primaries was to find the one candidate who voters perceived as having the best chance of beating Donald Trump. Interesting new ideas did not count at all as the goal was to beat Trump. Age did not count, so long as the candidate was not perceived as too green. Gender did not count, so long as the candidate was not female. Race did not count, so long as the candidate was not colored. Political leaning did not count, so long as the candidate was not perceived as being too far left.

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    "the best thing to do with anomalies oftentimes is to throw them out" : not quite ! There are many ways of treating anomalies and avoid them to skew results, but throwing them out is not the wisest one... – Evargalo Sep 18 at 13:19
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    I think there's some more here that can be said about demographic trends in the US in regards to age. Americans are getting older, which may cause our leaders to tend to be older over time also. Calling it an anomaly I don't think is something you can state absolutely. – Jeff Lambert Sep 18 at 14:09
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    If anything, Presidents are actually getting younger: imgur.com/a/avrAECm Unfortunately, OP just completely changed the question making my graph useless. – SurpriseDog Sep 18 at 17:32
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    @SurpriseDog Your graph looks very, very flat. There is no way one could reject the null hypothesis, which is that the age of Presidents at nomination has been about 55 since the time the nation was formed. – David Hammen Sep 18 at 17:56
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    Exactly. Theres no evidence of an increase. – SurpriseDog Sep 18 at 18:20
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Premise: Older Democratic candidates are favored, as they have a larger voter and political base that is likely to support them, when compared to younger candidates.

Evidence: Both Wikipedia and the United States Elections Project state that voters who are above 60 have higher attendance at elections (more than 60% attendance vs only 40% at most for 18-24 year old voters), while the OECD demonstrates that in the US younger voters are outvoted by older voters more when compared to other OECD countries (election turnout ratio is around 1.4 55+ voters per 18-24 year old voter). This establishes that older voters have more of an impact in terms of ability to influence an election result.

Furthermore, a research paper indicates that voters have a general trend of voting for a person whose age is similar to theirs ("The effect of age has been an overlooked heuristic within the voting behavior literature. Members of the electorate prefer to vote for co-partisan candidates who are closest to themselves in age") and that party affiliation at a young age will generally remain stable ("one’s “evaluative orientations” towards the political process and politics will tend to remain stable over a lifetime"). This may establish that older voters are likely to vote for a like minded candidate, with such candidate having a similar age to them.

Furthermore, a president would need at least a basic level of political support to implement their policies (such as Senate support for nominations). An older candidate would therefore need to at least be grudgingly accepted by Congress, which has an average age of 57.6 years for Representatives and 62.9 years for Senators, per the Congressional Research Service. It may be argued that a person of a similar age and viewpoint is more likely to back another person sharing those characteristics, in light of the material presented above.

Summary: We can summarize this as follows: Older Democratic candidates, having a voter base that is capable of outvoting younger voters and needing at the support of an older Congress to implement policy, would have an advantage that is primarily age related or deriving from age as a result of how people vote.

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