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Age in America’s Presidential Election

We are on the verge of witnessing what could be the oldest presidential race in United States history, one that the majority of American citizens are reluctant to see unfold. Although the minimum age to run for president in the United States is 35, the field is dominated by far older candidates, raising questions about the causes of this trend.


On Super Tuesday, which is the single date with the most primary election held, the Republican presidential primary narrowed down to a single contender, 77 year old former-President Donald Trump, as Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley left the race. Meanwhile, the Democratic Party includes President Joe Biden, aged 81, and Marianne Williamson, aged 71. Third-party candidates consist of Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Cornel West, both aged 70, along with Jill Stein, aged 73.


In the scenario where President Biden wins a second term, he will remain in the White House until age 86. If Former President Donald Trump wins, he will remain until 82. This presidential race marks the oldest matchup in US history, with important consequences. 


There have been many negative perceptions of voters' attitudes toward the upcoming general election. According to a YouGov-University of Massachusetts Amherst poll conducted in January, 45% of Americans express concern that a potential Biden-Trump rematch would be detrimental to the nation. Another 26% remain neutral, considering it neither beneficial nor harmful, while 29% perceive it as positive for the country.


With the “Normal Retirement Age” in the US being 67 years old, and the national median age in the US at 38.9, this has led Americans to wonder why are all of our presidential candidates so old? 


Possible explanations for the prevalence of older candidates include voters preferring more political experience. Joe Biden and Donald Trump potentially may have an advantage due to their current and previous incumbency. Former presidents with established name recognition and political experience may discourage younger and new candidates from entering the race,resulting in a lack of opportunity for fresh and younger voices to emerge.


Furthermore, the demography of American voters may influence the dominance of older politicians, as older Americans tend to turn out to vote more than the younger demographics. This prompts candidates to appeal to this age demographic by choosing older individuals who may resonate better with their voter age base. According to the United State Census Bureau, in the 2016 presidential election, American residents aged 65 and older displayed the highest voter turnout rate of 70.9 percent. This compares to 66.6 percent for those aged 45 to 64, 58.7 percent for those aged 30 to 44, and only 46.1 percent for the youngest generation, aged 18 to 29.


However, this raises questions about generational representation and older leaders' ability to handle the problems and interests of younger people. Younger candidates may bring new ideas, and inventive solutions to advocate for current issues, particularly those affecting younger demographics. They could also increase young people's political involvement and participation, encouraging them to play an active role in defining their communities and the future of the country.


The issue of age in American life is not, however, just tied to politics. Additionally, there have been growing conversations about ageism in corporate America, prompted by  the resignation of former Vice President Al Gore from Apple's board at the age 75 due to the company's age-based restrictions. Mandatory retirement ages are rare under US law, except for certain public safety roles. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) is a law in the United States that prevents employment discrimination against individuals who are 40 years old or older. It was signed into law during President Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration. The ADEA prohibits unfair treatment based on age in various aspects of employment, including hiring, firing, and compensation. Additionally, it promotes equal employment opportunities for older workers and aims to eliminate age limits that may prevent them from continuing or finding employment. Certain occupations, including commercial airline pilots, air traffic controllers, some federal and state police officers, and firefighters, have mandatory retirement ages. Surgeons, on the other hand, are exempt although the American College of Surgeons recommends that its members volunteer for physical, visual, and cognitive testing beginning at the age of 65-70.


In the context of the prevalence of older presidential candidates in the upcoming 2024 US presidential race, the ADEA emphasizes the importance of addressing age-related biases in all spheres of society, including politics. While the law provides significant protections for older individuals in the workforce, the persistence of this ageism raises larger questions about societal views towards aging and leadership.


The trend in Europe is the opposite, with presidential leaders getting younger. In the 1980s, the average age of European heads of government exceeded 65 years old. However, in the present day, the average age has significantly decreased to 53 years old.


French President Emmanuel Macron entered politics just five years before becoming president in 2017, at the age of 39, making him France's youngest president. Rishi Sunak, three years younger than Macron, became British Prime Minister last October, following a seven-year career in the House of Commons. Sunak's appointment makes him the youngest prime minister in the last 200 years. As presidential leaders in Europe are becoming younger, this emphasizes the importance of reflecting on the factors that shape leadership transitions and possibilities for people of various ages to participate in governance and policy.


The dominance of older candidates in the 2024 US presidential race raises concerns about generational representation and the ability of elder politicians to address the issues facing younger demographics. While there may be several reasons for the prevalence of older candidates, including voter preferences for political experience and the demographic makeup of the electorate, the absence of younger voices in politics is notable. The role of age in politics and society remains a complex and evolving problem that requires greater investigation and analysis. Promoting inclusivity and diversity in political leadership requires joint efforts in America to challenge age-related stereotypes and ensure equal opportunities for individuals of all ages to participate meaningfully in politics and other aspects of public life.

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