New Poll Shows Americans' Concern Over Elderly Politicians Is One Thing They Can Agree On

AP Photo/Evan Vucci

If there is one thing that most people might agree on, it is the fact that more than likely, their grandparents passed on before they could appreciate and collect as much of their knowledge and wisdom as they could. Older generations are living and breathing American history. But when we think of those, as Rush Limbaugh used to say, "seasoned citizens," we think of just that: grandparents. We want them to be the center of attention at holiday gatherings, not making policy in Washington, D.C. 


A new poll shows that, in a country where there is much division, we might have hit on one thing that Americans are agreeing with -- the fact that some sort of age requirement may be necessary for America's aging political class.

Most Americans believe that someone a bit older, most likely an incumbent office holder, not only brings seniority, but a wealth of experience and knowledge to the office. But the new CBS News/YouGov poll shows that, in an upcoming presidential election, where the likely candidates of both parties are either at or beyond 80 years old, there is also growing concern that the other side of that coin is that those approaching that age may have some health issues, either physical or mental, that could prevent them from doing the job to the fullest extent, or that they might be "out of touch" with the lives of average Americans. 

The poll surveyed 2,335 Americans of all backgrounds from September 5-8. Some did say that older politicians had some advantages. When asked about politicians over the age of 75 years, 52 percent said they would be "helpful with committee seniority," and 68 percent said they "have helpful experience." But more had concerns. Of those polled, 78 percent said that a politician's age would "raise concerns about job ability," and a whopping 80 percent brought up someone that age would "risk being out of touch." 


Perhaps if you were asking in any other election cycle where the candidates of both parties were younger, you might just get very different answers, but when respondents were asked about age limits, and they were broken down by party, there was not much divergence in thought. Democrats favored age limits by 76 percent, Republicans by 79 percent, and independents by 77 percent. When that same question was broken down by the age of the respondents, older people 65 years and older favored age limits for lawmakers. Those in both the under 45 years old, and 45-64 age groups favored age limits by 77 percent. When asked what the age limit should be, 45 percent gave the most popular answer, which was 70 years old.

The almost daily gaffes by President Joe Biden, who is 80 years old, are becoming increasingly apparent to many Americans. Last week, during a Medal of Honor ceremony, he abruptly left the room. During his recent trip to Vietnam, Biden appeared to ramble in his responses to reporters and seemed tired. After answering a question about his meeting with Chinese Premier Li Quang, he stated, "But I tell you what, I don't know about you, but I'm going to go to bed." If Joe Biden is reelected, he would be 86 years old at the end of his second term. In another recent poll, an Associated Press/NORC poll, 77 percent of Americans, including 69 percent of Democrats, think Joe Biden is too old for another White House run. 


Joe Biden is not the only aging member of the political class that is concerning to Americans. California Senator Dianne Feinstein is 90 years old and is clearly cognitively compromised. During a recent Senate vote, she had to be told by fellow Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) to "just say aye." Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), at age 81, has had two incidents where he froze and appeared unable to speak. But there could also be another good argument for age limits: politicians who just do not know how to exit gracefully. Former Speaker of the House Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), at age 83, announced last week she would run for a 20th term in the House.

In February, GOP presidential candidate Nikki Haley brought up the issue of aging politicians by calling for "mental competency tests" for lawmakers older than 75. The argument for mental competency tests might make more sense, as age affects everyone differently. Donald Trump, at age 77, appears sharp, although maybe not to Democrats. But others like Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), 82, and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) 89, appear to be alert and have their wits about them.  

The Founding Fathers of our nation never meant serving in Washington, D.C. to be a life-long career. We have allowed a ruling political class to turn it into just that. Most House members are below the age 70 cutoff point, but one-third of Senators are over 70. It may be time to consider a mechanism to let aging politicians know when it is someone else's turn, and it is time to go home.



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