WASHINGTON, D.C. — Americans actually agree on something in this time of raw discord: Joe Biden is too old to be an effective president in a second term. Only a few years his junior, Donald Trump raises strikingly less concern about his age.
But they have plenty of other problems with Trump, who at least for now far outdistances his rivals for the Republican nomination despite his multiple criminal indictments. Never mind his advanced years — if anything, some say, the 77-year-old ought to grow up.
A new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research finds much of the public oddly united in sizing up the one trait Biden cannot change.
The president has taken to raising the age issue himself, with wisecracks, as if trying to relax his audiences about his 80 trips around the sun.
Age discrimination may be banned in the workplace but the president’s employers — the people — aren’t shy about their bias.
In the poll, fully 77% said Biden is too old to be effective for four more years. Not only do 89% of Republicans say that, so do 69% of Democrats. That view is held across age groups, not just by young people, though older Democrats specifically are more supportive of his 2024 bid.
In contrast, about half of U.S. adults say Trump is too old for the office, and here the familiar partisan divide emerges — Democrats are far more likely to disqualify Trump by age than are Republicans.
What’s clear from the poll is that Americans are saying out with the old and in with the young, or at least younger.
Democrats, Republicans and independents want to sweep a broad broom through the halls of power, imposing age limits on the presidency, Congress and the Supreme Court. In all about two-thirds of U.S. adults back an age ceiling on candidates for president and Congress and a mandatory retirement age for justices.
Specifically, 67% favor requiring Supreme Court justices to retire by a certain age, 68% support age ceilings for candidates for House and Senate, and 66% support age ceilings for candidates for president.
With elders mostly running the show and the Constitution to contend with, don’t expect that to happen any time soon.
Even so, the survey suggests lots of people across political lines are open to seeing a younger face, a fresher one, or both, capture the public imagination.
The AP-NORC survey went beyond posing questions and presenting choices. It also had a word association exercise, asking people to offer the first word or phrase that comes to mind at the mention of each man.
The answers underscored how age is a particular drag for Biden across party lines, even when people aren’t prompted to think about that, and how Trump largely escapes that only to draw disdain if not disgust on other fronts.
In those visceral responses, 26% mentioned Biden’s age and an additional 15% used words such as “slow” or “confused.” One Republican thought of “potato.” Among Democrats, Biden’s age was mentioned upfront by 28%. They preferred such terms over “president,” “leader,” “strong” or “capable.” One who approves of his performance nevertheless called him “senile.”
Only 3% in the survey came up with “confused” as the first descriptor for Trump, and a mere 1% used “old” or the like. Instead, the top words were those like “corrupt” or “crooked” (15%), “bad” and other generally negative terms (11%), words such as “liar” and “dishonest” (8%), along with “good” and other generally positive comments (8%).
Older Democrats are less negative than younger ones on Biden’s decision to run again. In the poll, only 34% of Democrats under 45 want him running for reelection, compared with 54% of those older. Still, about three-quarters of younger Democrats say they’ll at least probably support him if he’s the nominee; others did not commit to that.