WASHINGTON, Nov 11 (Reuters) – The 2024 race for the White House could be new territory in the United States, which celebrates youth but where millions of Americans – including presidents – are now working well past the traditional retirement age of 65 .
Ronald Reagan was 77 when he left the White House, but President Joe Biden, who turns 80 on November 20, would be 86 at the end of a second four-year term, should he win it. His leading potential Republican opponent, Donald Trump, would be 82 years old when he leaves office if he won in 2024.
As a society, the United States is aging and working into old age. The population aged 65 and over is projected to nearly double from 52 million in 2018 to 95 million in 2060. By 2026, more than one in four men over age 65 will still be working, according to the nonprofit Population Reference Bureau.
Still, some Americans have concerns about the advanced ages of the two most likely candidates for 2024.
While 71% of Democrats believe Biden is “mentally sharp and able to handle challenges,” 46% say he’s up to the challenge in 2024, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted Wednesday and Thursday to run for office, may not have grown. About a quarter of Republicans, 26%, believe Trump may not be ready for 2024 because of his age.
Political affiliation aside, 68% of respondents believe Biden will not be up to the challenge in two years, and 49% say the same about Trump. About 86% of Americans said they believe the limit for the office of president should be 75 or younger, according to the poll.
Biden’s occasional verbal stumbling blocks and tendency to deviate from script during live performances have been cited by his Republican critics as evidence he’s too old for the job. His supporters say the president, who overcame a childhood stutter, has been ad-librating in public speeches for decades.
Biden’s second term prospects received a boost this week as Democrats did better-than-expected midterms in the congressional and gubernatorial elections.
When asked about concerns about Biden’s age ahead of his 80th birthday, the White House said his recent record speaks for itself.
“As then-candidate Biden said in 2019, ‘Watch him,'” spokesman Andrew Bates replied.
“Since then, he’s garnered the most votes of any in American history, achieved unprecedented job creation, got big corporations to pay their fair share of taxes, empowered Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices, and signed into law the most significant gun reform in 30 years largest infrastructure investment since the 1950s,” Bates said, calling it “the most successful legislative record of any president since Lyndon Johnson.”
“Keep watching,” he added.
Some Biden supporters said they admired the Democrats’ success under Biden but were still unsure about a potential next term.
“I think he’s done a great job in the time he’s had,” said Paul Klenck of Illinois. “I worry that someone well past their mid-80s could become president. I can’t imagine a more demanding job.”
Others said criticism of Biden’s age was discriminatory.
“Some people at 60 should be far from political power,” Catharine Stimpson, 86, who lives in New York City, said in an interview. “I think the satire on him and the mockery of him is ageism. So let’s look at the individual.”
When asked about his birthday in a recent MSNBC interview, Biden had a reaction that might be familiar to anyone over 50: disbelief. “I can’t even say how old I’ll be. I can’t even get it out of my mouth,” he said.
Biden said questions about his age were “entirely legitimate” but that it was his intention to seek another term.
AGING AMERICA, AGING LEADERS
The outgoing Congress is one of the oldest in US history, with more than half of the House of Representatives and two-thirds of the Senate belonging to the “Baby Boomer” generation, born between 1946 and 1964, Pew Research shows.
Some members have years on Biden and Trump. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is 82 years old. Republican Senate Chairman Mitch McConnell is 80 years old. Republican Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, 89, won another six-year term on Tuesday.
Americans are not necessarily comfortable with this situation. Two-thirds of respondents support the idea of an upper age limit for federal officials, including the president, members of Congress and Supreme Court justices, the Reuters poll shows.
However, Biden does not even feature in the top 10 on the list of the world’s oldest current incumbent leaders, which is headed by 89-year-old President of Cameroon Paul Biya and which also includes 82-year-old Queen Margrethe of Denmark.
“There’s a reason other societies look to their elders for wisdom and guidance. It’s because they have that experience that shouldn’t be discounted,” said Deborah Kado, co-director of the Center for Longevity at Stanford University.
Kado and other aging experts said they saw no signs that Biden was unable to fulfill his duties.
Stuart Jay Olshansky, an aging expert at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said Biden may be a member of a subset of older Americans who are “super-agers,” with the intellectual abilities of people decades younger.
“Age has been weaponized and people from the other party, no matter which party you’re dealing with, will always try to say that there’s something wrong with that person,” he said. “Those of us who study age as a profession say, ‘Stop using age as a weapon.'”
The Reuters/Ipsos poll, conducted online in English in the United States, collected responses from 1,003 adults, including 468 Democrats and 342 Republicans. It has a confidence interval – a measure of accuracy – of 4 percentage points in either direction.
reporting by Steve Holland and Jason Lange; Edited by Heather Timmons and Jonathan Oatis
Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.