WASHINGTON (TND) — Age has become a central issue in the 2024 presidential election as both parties’ frontrunners for the nomination are the oldest presidents in U.S. history and are giving voters concerns about their health and mental fitness to lead the country through a four-year term.
A majority of voters believe 81-year-old President Joe Biden and 77-year-old former President Donald Trump are both too old for another term as president, according to an ABC News/Ipsos poll conducted after the release of a special counsel’s report on an investigation into Biden’s handling of classified documents.
Fifty-nine percent said both are too old, while 27% said that only Biden is too old to serve another term, but not Trump. About 1 in 10 Americans said neither are too old to serve a second term.
The snapshot poll came after special counsel Robert Hur released a 388-page report that cleared the president of facing charges but also raised multiple questions about his memory and mental abilities. Biden’s legal team and other Democrats have criticized the inclusion of statements about the president’s memory and description of him being a "well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory."
The White House and Biden’s campaign have tried to counter the potential damage the report could have on the president’s reelection chances in the days since its release, including a press conference in the hours after where Biden defiantly defended his memory and said he disagreed with Hur’s depiction.
Biden’s personal counsel Bob Bauer said on CBS’ “Face The Nation” that the report was a “shoddy work product” and that it “went off the rails.”
"The special counsel's decision to cherry-pick in a very misleading way some of the references that we're discussing here is an example of what I call a really shabby work product and completely out of bounds for a prosecutor," Bauer said.
Biden’s campaign has also tried to point to Trump’s missteps to minimize the attention on the president’s miscues, but early indications on voters’ reactions to the special counsel report are not favorable to the president.
“Voters just seem to have more of a problem with that with Biden than Trump. Now look, maybe over the course of the campaign maybe that changes. You know, maybe Trump is the one who starts to make more news for having verbal gaffes and whatnot,” said Kyle Kondik, a political analyst at the University of Virginia's Center for Politics.
The ABC News/Ipsos poll found age is an increasingly big issue for both leading candidates, but that it is a bigger problem for Biden so far.
There was also a partisan split on each party’s perception of Biden and Trump’s age. Roughly 7 in 10 Democrats and independents each said both candidates were too old, while 62% of Republicans in the poll said only Biden.
Voters having fewer concerns about Trump is consistent with past polling on the age of the two candidates despite the former president also making frequent speaking errors and mixing up dates, names and places in his speeches.
Trump has sometimes struggled to recall names and dates in recent months, most notably confusing former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley, his only remaining competition in the GOP presidential primary, for former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., while talking about the Jan. 6 insurrection.
Despite the frequent errors, voters do not question Trump’s age and mental fitness to the same level.
“Part of it is just how each of them portrays themselves. Biden tries to portray himself as energetic and vigorous, but it just doesn't play as well because it's just too obvious to too many people that he isn't, whereas Trump — everybody's beating up on him anyway, so his age is just one more thing. The lead when it comes to Trump is not that he's old, the lead when it comes to Trump is ‘he shoots from the hip, he's dangerous, he's an existential threat,’” said Tobe Berokvitz, a former political media consultant and associate professor of advertising emeritus at Boston University.
Trump’s appearances of the weekend brought some evidence of the other concerns surrounding his candidacy being prioritized over his advanced age, with a pair of statements that drew stiff blowback. One was questioning the absence of Haley’s husband, who is deployed overseas with the South Carolina Army National Guard, which received blowback from both sides of the aisle.
Trump also sparked international condemnation after he said the U.S. shouldn’t help defend a NATO ally if it came under attack from Moscow if they didn’t meet a defense spending target of at least 2% of the country’s gross domestic product. European leaders and U.S. lawmakers from both parties expressed issues with Trump’s stance.
The steady flow of controversies and statements sparking outcries has been a constant theme with Trump’s time in the political spotlight that many voters have taken issue with and help contribute to his poor favorability ratings in public opinion surveys. But it also could contribute to his age being less of a problem to Americans deciding who they will vote for in November.
“Trump is out there all the time, so when Trump makes a mistake, he's going to be talking an hour later or the next day and it sort of goes into the background as opposed to Biden's, which hang out there like laundry on a line,” Berkoviitz said.
Ahtra Elnashar contributed to this report.
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