How old is too old to be president?

Mike Bebernes

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Speed read

What's happening: If current polling is an indication, voters in 2020 may be choosing between the oldest pair of candidates in an American presidential election. President Trump is 72. His leading challengers thus far on the Democratic side, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, would be 78 and 79 respectively, at the start of their first term. Elizabeth Warren will be 71 on Inauguration Day. Each of the four would be the oldest president ever at the end of a potential second term.

At the same time, the Democratic field features some of the youngest candidates to mount a serious presidential campaign. At 37, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, of South Bend, Ind., would be the youngest president ever, if elected. The Constitution requires a president to be over age 35, but there's no age limit for the position.

Why there's debate: The possibility that the next president will be over 70 has raised concerns on multiple fronts. Some worry that someone of advanced age would struggle to physically manage the rigors of the job. Others raise the possibility of the president experiencing mental decline while in office.

Outside of fitness for the position, some also question how effectively a president from the baby boom generation would represent voters who increasingly come from younger generations. One Democratic consultant called the issue "the 78-year-old elephant in the room.”

That view is countered by those who say candidates should be judged individually for their ability to meet the challenges of the presidency. The grueling campaign schedule and large number of debates will give each person the opportunity to prove their vigor, they argue. Others contend that to assume an older person will suffer from Alzheimer's disease or dementia is to resort to ageism.

What's next: Ultimately it will be up to voters to decide whether age plays a significant factor in their choice of candidate. Polling suggests people are more comfortable electing someone under the age of 75, but it's unclear how much sway that will have when there are so many other critical issues to consider.


Some candidates are too old to be president.

"Age-related decline is also real, backed not only by data and scientific evidence, but by experience. Aging comes with physical and cognitive changes that affect everything we do.

Based on available science on aging, Sanders, Biden, Weld, Trump, even Warren are too old to lead this country." — Linda Rodriguez McRobbie, Boston Globe

Voters judge candidates on behavior, not age.

"Polling indicates that while age may be a factor in voters’ evaluations, it isn’t one that carries much weight as long as the candidate projects good health, intellect and energy." — Dan Majors, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Averages don't matter because presidents are exceptional.

"One might argue that the average septuagenarian is not fit to serve as president, but the major presidential candidates are, by definition, not average." — Jacob Appel, The Hill

Getting through a grueling campaign is proof a candidate can handle being president.

"Weathering a presidential campaign proves the contestant has far better health and stamina than anyone of any age who hasn't done it." — Margaret Morganroth Gullette, Forbes

Science shows that concerns about age-related illness are overstated.

"The near-unanimous consensus of gerontologists in the past several decades has been that elderly people are more cognitively capable and adaptable than our prejudices indicate. The vast majority of people in their 70s do not show signs of dementia." — James Chappel and

Sari Edelstein, Washington Post

The job of president is too difficult after a certain age.

"[T]he issue is more than just whether each candidate might be a voice from the past, or out of touch with today's concerns. The issue is whether they are simply too old to handle the rigors of the presidency." — Bryan York, Washington Examiner

A president in cognitive decline could be dangerous for the country.

"Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia are devastating to deal with for patients and their families. But fighting a serious disease while serving in the most powerful political position in the world is a dangerous scenario. Issues with memory, planning, confusion and judgment could pose serious threats to the country's political stability." — Alex Clark, Splinter

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