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A number of polls show that Americans by and large consider Joe Biden to be too old to be president.

For example, an Associated Press poll asked

Do you think each of the following is too old to effectively serve another 4-year term as president, or not?

For Biden, 77% answered yes. But for Trump, only 51% answered yes.

enter image description here

How come this discrepancy given that Trump is only 3 years younger than Biden? I don't think the discrepancy can solely be a party political thing, because if Republicans considered Biden too old and Democrats considered Trump too old, we would expect to see roughly similar figures for both.

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    I think this is missing context. The poll is basically asking for what reason you think a person is unfit and most responders (remember this is a poll, so biased towards people who respond to polls) picked Biden's age and Trump's legal issues. That said, most Democrats would not find an issue with their party's policies so they would likely pick a superficial reason just to answer the question, whereas Republicans more likely will pick policy issues.
    – uberhaxed
    Commented Jan 12 at 15:57
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    It would be instructive to see the actual poll questions. It is unlikely that the ages themselves are the only factor leading to responses that can be cast, in aggregate, as people thinking Biden too old and Trump not. Commented Jan 12 at 18:50
  • 3
    Does this answer your question? Why do attack ads focus so much on Joe Biden's mental state but not Donald Trump's? Commented Jan 13 at 2:55
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    Is there no American who is neither Republican nor Democrat? Based on how they vote does not make them either, is simply a matter of the non-representative voting system. Commented Jan 13 at 8:56
  • <pedant>"Why do Americans consider Biden to be ... not Trump?" There are clear differences between Biden and Trump. I think you mean "Why do Americans consider Biden to be too old for president, but Trump not?"</pedant> Commented Jan 14 at 6:21

11 Answers 11

53

I too find this as puzzling (and irrational). Here are some reasons I can think of:

  • Left-digit bias

Just like buyers (incorrectly) perceive $10 to be much more expensive than $9.99, voters may (incorrectly) perceive an 81-year-old to be much older than a 77-year-old.

  • Hair dye

Biden doesn't bother dyeing his white hair. Trump does (blonde/orange).

  • Biden's gaffes and stuttering

Doctors/medical scientists say it would be a sign of cognitive decline if one's rate of gaffes and stuttering has increased of late, which is not the case for Biden. (Biden's problem with gaffes and stuttering is a lifelong one.)

But this is a subtle point that most voters probably don't care about. When they do see Biden occasionally gaffeing and stuttering, they are quick to regard this as a sign of old age.

  • Trump's brash personality

This probably reminds most voters of a dumb teenager.

In contrast, Biden's more measured style reminds most voters of the octogenarian statesman that he is.

  • Trump is fatter

Again, this is irrational (being fatter should make Trump's health a greater concern).

But I think to most voters, being fatter makes Trump look younger. (Survivorship bias means that there are few old fat persons or equivalently, fat persons are disproportionately young.)

Biden, being skinnier, looks more like a typical old man.

  • Trump's orange skin color

Whether this is natural (as he'd probably claim) or not (as many have claimed), this makes him look younger. In contrast, Biden doesn't seem to bother much with make-up or other enhancements.


Olshansky, Barnes, and Willcox (The Hill, 2024-01-07):

Today his [Biden] chances of surviving through a second term in office are close to 75 percent (about 10 percent better survival than for an average man his age). Similar, although slightly less favorable survival prospects are present for Trump. ...

There is no clinical evidence for cognitive decline in President Biden — despite armchair gerontologists declaring otherwise. ...

It is also common to mistake Biden’s lifelong speech impediment for cognitive decline, his cough for an inability to speak clearly, his changed gate [sic] for a man in significant decline, an occasional misstatement as a sign of mental decay, etc. ...

President Biden exhibits characteristics consistent with superager status. The evidence so far — evaluated by experts in medicine and aging science and uninfluenced by politics and rapid judgments based on limited information — is that President Biden’s chronological age should not be an impediment to running for a second term in office.

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    its all about perception
    – whoisit
    Commented Jan 12 at 10:41
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    Also could mention the fact that Trump and others keep bringing up Biden's age but that isn't the case for Biden and others bringing up Trumps age. I have seen a lot of news people talk about Biden being to old but they almost never mention Trumps age in the same segment.
    – Joe W
    Commented Jan 12 at 14:24
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    Also conservatism - older people tend to be more conservative and conservative prefer older leaders as they consider them more stable and traditional. As Republicans tend to be conservative it probably explains why they see Trumps age as plus in him.
    – sfxedit
    Commented Jan 12 at 17:27
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    Example 1: “voters may (incorrectly) perceive an 81-year-old to be much older than a 77-year-old” - The death rate in that 4-year difference jumps from 5% to 8%, a 60% increase according to the social security actuarial life table. By end-of-term ages, the difference between 81 and 85 is 8% compared to 11%, a 37% increase. At best the “much older” qualifier is subjective and meaningless, at worst the “(incorrect)” claim is objectively wrong.
    – Cardinal
    Commented Jan 12 at 18:45
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    Biden's gaffes = senility. Trump's gaffes = him being brash and hot-headed, and not thinking before speaking. Stereotypically speaking.
    – dan04
    Commented Jan 12 at 19:57
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I am French and we (in general) loosely follow US politics because, well, this is the US. I do not have any special affinities for the US but vastly prefer Democrats to Republicans. This is also the average situation within the group of people I discuss these topics*.

With this said, every time we see Joe Biden on TV, it looks to us as if he is about to die in the next minute. We do not see him often, and in maybe 50% of the cases this is because he did something (tripped, forgot, ...). The other 50% are short clips of him saying something important.

Donald Trump, on the other hand, is shown when he is doing something weird. These are words, gestures, whatever. In none of these cases he looks weak but rather overexcited.

These two limited, non-objective pictures we get essentially show a weak, slow Biden and a dynamic Trump. The actual age does not matter then.


* The main reason for this partisan view, I believe, is that the US "left" is close to our "right", and the Republicans are "far, far right" (further right than our far right). This is not really related to a specific fondness for Democrats' politics.

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    Agree with this. Biden seems doddery and old, puttering around the stage and not really knowing what's going on. Trump seems quite energetic by comparison, attending shows and rallies almost daily.
    – Valorum
    Commented Jan 13 at 11:52
  • Oddly enough, Biden is in very good shape and is quite physically active for his age. He's a relatively poor public speaker as well. The combination of him doing lots of things (and thus stumbling physically) and being forced to speak publicly when he's bad at it (and thus stumbling verbally) have made an absolute gold mine of footage for people who want to push the narrative that he's incompetent. Biden looks 1000 years old though, which doesn't help. Similar Trump footage is plentiful, like him being unable to walk down a ramp or ANY time he speaks. Commented Jan 13 at 13:55
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    "Dynamic" perhaps in the "Holy Crap, grandpa is off his meds again" kind of way.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Jan 13 at 16:44
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    As a German I agree. I mildly prefer Biden, but he does appear significantly older. Commented Jan 14 at 11:23
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I suspect this is pure partisan bias. Let's make the assumption that a large percentage of the country (regardless of political orientation) thinks that 70+ is a bit old for the presidency. If so, we can expect all Democrats and Republicans to report that they think Biden is too old, but only Democrats and non-Trump Republicans to report that for Trump. Trump (as a matter of his style of personality politics) has developed a deeply loyal core of supporters who think that Trump (more or less) can do no wrong. While these people would certainly accept the age ceiling is true as a general rule, they would not believe the rule applies to Trump, and would not report such on a survey.

Biden runs a different kind of campaign — more party and issue-centric than personality-centric — and consequently has never developed an ultra-loyal base which would studiously ignore his potential weaknesses. That difference would easily account for the discrepancy seen.

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    I don't understand your second sentence. Why are there no "non-Biden Democrats" balancing the "non-Trump Republicans"? Doesn't that just beg the question?
    – IMSoP
    Commented Jan 12 at 17:39
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    @IMSoP The way I understand it is that there are no Biden-Democrats in the same way as there are Trump-Republicans. Biden was the rational choice given the circumstances. He doesn't have a strong base of Biden-extremists supporting him, there is no such thing as a Biden-extremist. So most people, except the Trump-extremists think that both Biden and Trump are a bit old for the presidency.
    – Nobody
    Commented Jan 12 at 17:48
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    @IMSoP: Trump engages in personality politics, and has managed to develop an extremely loyal core of supporters who (more or less) think he can do no wrong. This is amplified by a GOP establishment and conservative media that is leery of upsetting that core group, and unwilling to discuss anything that might reflect negatively on Trump. Biden runs a different kind of campaign and thus has not developed an equivalent core of ultra-loyal supporters. Even his closest supporters are more than happy to acknowledge his age, or other potential weaknesses. Commented Jan 12 at 17:50
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    @TedWrigley That comment seems to give a completely different - and much better - answer to the original question. Your current answer just says "we can expect that there will be a difference", but doesn't actually explain why we should expect that.
    – IMSoP
    Commented Jan 12 at 17:59
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    @MathematicsStudent1122: Unfortunately, Trump has made this election cycle about authoritarian vs democratic rule (such as it is). The issue is democracy, and Biden is positioning himself as pro-democracy. Both his experience and his distaste for Trump's antics are focal for this issue. But look back to 2020, where Biden barely attacked Trump at all (certainly by comparison), and made it clear he was about diversity and rebuilding trust in American institutions. Commented Jan 16 at 4:03
25

I think that the question Why do Americans consider Biden to be too old for president, but not Trump? fails to look at the polling data correctly.

It's not true that "Americans" consider Biden too old for president, but not Trump.

The poll results are entirely a function of how Republicans answered this question. The Democrats seem to have the same opinion of Biden and Trump regarding age.

Republican voters and the Republican Party have placed their bets on Trump in spite of an ever-increasing pile of evidence that he is (to put it mildly) a bad choice for president. In order to do this, a huge amount of cognitive dissonance is required.

It's this kind of dissonance that allows the Republican poll respondents to believe that Biden is too old but Trump is not.

RussellMcMahon's answer adds some detail to this answer

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    Upvoted for bothering to look at the crosstabs, like more people should do. One thing you'll perpetually find if you do that is that for most (not all but most) questions, independents look like very watered down Democrats (with result timelines roughly paralleling each other), while Republicans are just off in their own universe (not much of a correlation with anyone else's result lines).
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Jan 13 at 16:47
  • I'm a NZer, and engineer and famiiar with statistics. This is clearly Republican bias, as you note. Commented Jan 15 at 9:19
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    I went to say this and then saw you had already done so. I've added and answer and acknowledged your answer in it. Commented Jan 15 at 9:37
  • @RussellMcMahon as it happens, I'm from the UK, a software engineer and am familiar with statistics :) I'm going to point folks to your answer too, because I think it complements this really well.
    – Dancrumb
    Commented Jan 16 at 16:00
  • "in spite of an ever-increasing pile of evidence that he is (to put it mildly) a bad choice for president" Downvoted for inability to stick to the question at hand.
    – Kyralessa
    Commented Jan 16 at 19:48
11

Perhaps what affects the perception of age is not only the nominal or/and biological age, but also the time spent in Washington: Biden first became a senator in 1973, at the height of the Cold War, while the USSR was still run by Leonid Brezhnev, internet and personal computers were only emerging on the market, telephones were still landlines. Americans distinctly associate their first political experiences with Reagan era, George H.W. Bush, Clinton, George W. Bush, Obama, and finally Trump - these are many "political generations". One might mention Biden when speaking about the political views of one's parents or even grandparents. On the other hand, Trump emerged on the scene only recently, associated mostly with his somewhat youthful Apprentice show - his "political age" is just a generation, he has less "luggage" (if we don't count his legal problems), less association with the events regarded as distant past.

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    Trump has been a well-known US (and even global) celebrity since at least the 1980s. E.g. Trump appeared on 60 Minutes in 1985, Letterman in 1987, Oprah in 1988, and Larry King in 1988. (I'm not sure and doubt if Biden ever appeared on any of those shows before 2008.) Trump also wrote the best-selling The Art of the Deal (1987), appeared in Home Alone 2 in 1992, and The Simpsons in 2000 (when he is mentioned as having become President some time before 2030). So, no, Trump did not "emerge[] on the scene only recently".
    – user103496
    Commented Jan 12 at 11:01
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    Until Biden became Vice President, he was not much more well-known than say the current Delaware senators or any of the longest-serving senators (Robert Byrd, Inouye, Patrick Leahy).
    – user103496
    Commented Jan 12 at 11:03
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    @user103496 Biden became vice-President, because he was quite well-known as a senator, and because he was a relatively strong rival in the presidential campaign - which was already his second - see Joe Biden 1988 presidential campaign
    – Morisco
    Commented Jan 12 at 11:09
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  • Trump puts effort into presenting as younger than he is.

  • Right wing media are consistently attacking Biden on his age.

  • Biden is older than Trump by one term.

  • Biden already is the oldest serving US president.

  • Biden is in his 80s, Trump is not.

The last 3 prevent left leaning media and Democrats from effectively using the age attack against Trump. If Trump was running against someone in their 50s or 60s, age would absolutely be a major issue for Trump.

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  • afaik it is not yet decided who Trump will be running against in the 2024 elections
    – gerrit
    Commented Jan 15 at 10:30
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    @gerrit Both Trump and Biden aren't formally decided yet, so I treated the question as asking about now, not October. At this point Trump is running against Biden. If next month Trump is running against e.g. Dean Phillips (54) because Biden passed away in his sleep, age will immediately become a major issue for Trump, possibly even to the point of helping other Republican candidates win the nomination instead.
    – Peter
    Commented Jan 15 at 13:09
4

I'm a NZer, an engineer and familiar with statistics.
I "have no dog in the race".

This result is clearly a direct result of Republican bias.
"Biden is too old" has been established as a mantra and it has become the standard Republican response. This conclusion is the same as stated by Dancrumb, but I've added some figures.

Examination of results like this is crucially important if we are not to be swayed in our impressions by statistics which do not reflect what they might appear to show.

  • If we take the overall figures they appears to show that there is a very clear difference in voter impressions re the age-suitability of the two candidates,

  • If we look instead at the party aligned results we see that the poll actually reflects a major difference between the way that Democrats & Republicans, on average "do politics" in this case.

Consider:

Democrats:

  • 71% consider that Trump is too old and 69% consider that Biden is too old.

This is a small bias against the younger candidate. This could be ascribed to the degree of bias that one might reasonably expect in a demographic subset that favours its own candidate.

Republicans:

  • 28% consider that Trump is too old and 89% consider that Biden is too old.

This is an immense bias in favour of the younger candidate - who happens to be "their" candidate. A factor of over 3 to 1 in favour of Trump.

The overall results are simply the expected weighted mean of the two groups.

Biden -

(69% + 89%)/2 = 79%. Actual overall = 77%. This suggests that there were slightly more Republicans than Democrats in the poll.

Trump -

(71% + 28%) /2 = 49.5%. Actual overall = 51% This suggests slightly more Democrats than Republicans were polled.

The slight variation of the actual result from the strict average suggests there were some other secondary factors in play, but nothing too significant.


If I was to draw any conclusion about the results, which is far too dangerous and uncertain to do, I might conclude either that.

  • Democrats are dreaming about their candidate's abilities and Republicans are realistic and can see the clear truth. or
  • Republicans are desperately seeking to perceive their candidates age as of little importance as they wish him to be clearly preferred for the role.

As I said above these, or probably most other, conclusions are far to dangerous and uncertain to hazard, so I will not do so. :-)

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  • The raw(ish) data at apnorc.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/08/… (page 28) indicates 44% Democrat and 36% Republican
    – Dancrumb
    Commented Jan 16 at 2:21
  • @Dancrumb Thanks. Tat's an unfortunate partial presentation of the figures. It clearly shows that ~ "those polled say that they think Biden is too old" BUT do not provide the party based results which show that it is not in fact the case that all USAians think this way. Commented Jan 18 at 8:53
4

Look at the breakdown. 70% of Democrats (+/- 1%) think that both Biden and Trump are old enough that it is a problem. There isn't much of a difference at all among Democrats. You'd actually expect Democrats to have a bias towards their candidate here, despite Biden being older, but none is apparent.

Meanwhile, among Republicans, 89% think Biden is too old, and 22% think Trump is too old.

To understand this, we have to look at the level of information that Republican party members express from their other preferences. To wit, 69% of Republicans support an insurrectionist1 and rapist2 as their party leader; they either deny reality, or don't care about pretty horrible things for a president to have done. I wouldn't expect reality-aligned answers from either group; the first, because they are disconnected from it, the second, because if you the kind of person who is good with rape and insurrection, why would you tell the truth to a pollster? Instead, you are going to lie to advance your political position, and admitting any flaw in your preferred rapist and insurrectionist is something you aren't going to do for no good reason.

That leaves the 31% of Republicans who prefer a different leader; none of them have left the party, despite it being quite effectively taken over by an insurrectionist and rapist. Now, some of these Republicans think Trump doesn't go far enough, others prefer a different candidate but would take Trump, most would prefer a known insurrectionist and rapist over anyone from a different party.

That a whole 22% of these members are willing to admit any flaw in their de-facto leader is surprisingly high. Their news sources -- (Australian far-right-wing owned) Fox News (and other even more right-wing publications) -- will be repeatedly attacking Biden's age.

In short, the difference can be explained by the observed low-information and low-morals status of voters in the Republican party.


1 https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2023/dec/28/maine-disqualifies-trump-presidential-primary-ballot-insurrection https://www.cbsnews.com/news/trump-colorado-supreme-court/

2 https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2023/07/19/trump-carroll-judge-rape/

3

The people who vote Republican are older, perhaps by 5-12 years.

https://www.pewresearch.org/politics/?attachment_id=20080828

Only 3% of Americans say that it's best to have a president in his 70's.

https://www.pewresearch.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/07/SR_2023.07.06_president-age_1.png?w=620

Botox and weight and other cosmetic changes help Trumps image.

Beyond the age of 70, humans suffer from a rapid deterioration of motor control, and phonological troubles, which has a negative impact on their professional life. Pre-existing motor speech impediments can worsen faster, including dysarthria and apraxia, which, unfortunately for Joe Biden will continue to decline as he reaches his 80's. They make for difficult communication. He was indeed a lot more forceful with is speech ability previously and at his first presidential campaign. Concerning his mental abilities he is fairly sharp for a 77 year old, he thinks of what he says.

Actually, there is scientific evidence to support age-related cognitive decline across the board after the age of 60, especially in the ability to deal with numbers and words:

(The graph on the left is compared to other ages) https://media.springernature.com/full/springer-static/image/art%3A10.1186%2F1743-0003-5-26/MediaObjects/12984_2008_Article_150_Fig1_HTML.jpg ref

That is perhaps why 3% of voters want a president in his 70's, and 70% of voters prefer to have a president younger than 60.

-2

Without effective government, powerful and wealthy non-Federal entities or States will be able to wield more power.

The GOP represents these other interests and Trump's successes were accomplished by tearing down Federal government entities to regulate them.

The Democrats oppose these interests and they can only succeed by keeping the government up, strong, and effective.

Trump can go a bit senile because his job is to prevent the government from working effectively.

Senility is harmful to Biden because it prevents the government from working effectively.

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  • This doesn't really address the question as it is just giving an excuse as to why some might not care about Trumps age and the impact it has.
    – Joe W
    Commented Jan 16 at 19:03
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    Trump's age isn't a problem for him. Biden's is. Commented Jan 16 at 19:10
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    Biden's age isn't a problem for him either or his supporters. There are people who think that both Biden's and Trump's age is a problem and there are people who think that neither of their ages is a problem. Regardless you can't wave it off with an excuse that Trump having mental issue due to age isn't an issue but it is for Biden.
    – Joe W
    Commented Jan 16 at 19:17
  • It's not a wave off, its an explanation. Commented Jan 16 at 19:23
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    I am sorry saying being senile for one person in an office is acceptable while it is not for another person is just an excuse. The fact remains that if someone really has issues like that there is a real question if they should be in office regardless of anything else.
    – Joe W
    Commented Jan 16 at 21:47
-3

WASHINGTON (AP) — The longstanding concerns about President Joe Biden’s age and memory intensified on Thursday after the release of a special counsel’s report investigating his possession of classified documents.

The report described the 81-year-old Democrat’s memory as “hazy,” “fuzzy,” “faulty,” “poor” and having “significant limitations.” It noted that Biden could not recall defining milestones in his own life such as when his son Beau died or when he served as vice president.

“My memory is fine,” Biden responded Thursday night from the White House, where he grew visibly angry as he denied forgetting when his son died. Beau Biden died of brain cancer in 2015 at the age of 46.

https://apnews.com/article/biden-memory-age-special-counsel-report-doj-f4232bc8316e556ed467185b67c3e0a8

The reason is because some people observed and alleged signs of dementia to the point that a Special Counsel had to make a report describing Biden's memory as hazy, fuzzy, faulty, poor and having significant limitations. Republicans have also been suggesting that Joe Biden had some form of dementia. Whether this is true or not, it's impossible to say, but as they keep repeating the same suggestions it's likely it will affect public perception.

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  • And if you read the full report it also dismissed those concerns later in the report.
    – Joe W
    Commented May 21 at 13:13
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    Okay, but the special council report was released in March 2024. The poll in the question was conducted in August 2023. So while it might be a factor now, it couldn't have been at the time.
    – JJJ
    Commented May 21 at 13:15

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