Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,
Nicholas
nwhyte

2020 will be the most geriatric U.S. presidential election ever

(Updated from a previous post four years ago)

One extraordinary point about the 2016 election was that the combined ages of the two front-runners was by some margin the highest ever. Donald Trump turned 70 a few months before the election, and Hillary Clinton a few months after. Their combined age of 139 on Election Day was ten years more than the previous record, Reagan (73) and Mondale (56) in 1984 (total 129). Only twice before had both main candidates been over 60 - the obscure elections of 1848, when Zachary Taylor (63) beat Lewis Cass (64), and 1828 when Andrew Jackson beat John Quincy Adams (both 61). To have both over 69 was really unprecedented.

In 2020, that record will be pushed still further. The election will come a few months after Donald Trump's 74th birthday, and very soon before Joe Biden's 78th, for a combined age on election day of 151, twelve more than four years ago, and twenty-two more than any election before that. If Bernie Sanders overcomes the odds and gets the Democratic Party nomination, he will be 79 on election day and the combined total will be 153. It is the first time ever that both main candidates will be septuagenarians. (Only four times before has even one candidate been over 70 - in 1984, 1996, 2008 and 2016 - all Republicans.)

I found it striking as I crunched the numbers that the average age of candidates now is much older than it used to be. In the list of ages of the leading candidates at each election below, I've put the 17 elections since 1952 (starting with 1956) in red; the 16 elections before 1852 (ending with 1848) in blue; and the 26 elections from 1852 to 1952 inclusive in green. It's clear that the middle period saw younger candidates, with those 26 elections supplying 22 of the bottom half of the table, and 4 of the top half - in fact, none of the middle 26 are in the top 30% of the table, and the high-water mark is the comparatively youthful matchup between Hayes and Tilden in 1876. Meanwhile all five elections since 2000, and all but two of the eleven elections starting with 1980 (in darker red), are in the top third of the table. The earlier period was even more elderly, with only two elections (one of which doesn't really count) of the first 16 in the lower half of the table.

2020 Trump (74) + ?Biden? (77) = 151
2016 Trump (70) + H Clinton (69) = 139

1984 Reagan (73) + Mondale (56) = 129
1848 Taylor (63) + Cass (64) = 127
1980 Reagan (69) + Carter (56) = 125
1840 WH Harrison (67) + Van Buren (57) = 124
1996 WJ Clinton (50) + Dole (73) = 123
1956 Eisenhower (66) + Stevenson (56) = 122
1828 Jackson (61) + JQ Adams (61) = 122
1800 Jefferson (57) + J Adams (65) = 122
1832 Jackson (65) + Clay (55) =120

2008 Obama (47) + McCain (72) = 119
1988 GHW Bush (64) + Dukakis (55) = 119
1816 Monroe (58) + King (61) = 119
1808 Madison (57) + Pinckney (62) = 119
1804 Jefferson (61) + Pinckney (58) = 119

2004 GW Bush (58) + Kerry (60) = 118
1792 Washington (60) + J Adams (57) = 117 - more of an acclamation than an election
2012 Obama (51) + Romney (65) = 116
1876 Hayes (54) + Tilden (62) = 116
1844 Polk (49) + Clay (67) = 116
1836 Van Buren (53) + WH Harrison (63) = 116

1976 Carter (52) + Ford (63) = 115
1820 Monroe (62) + JQ Adams (53) = 115 - more of an acclamation than an election
1992 WJ Clinton (46) + GHW Bush (68) = 114
1952 Eisenhower (62) + Stevenson (52) = 114
1892 Cleveland (55) + B Harrison (59) = 114
1824 JQ Adams (57) + Jackson (57) = 114
1796 J Adams (61) + Jefferson (53) = 114

1916 Wilson (59) + Hughes (54) = 113
1852 Pierce (47) + Scott (66) = 113

1968 Nixon (55) + Humphrey (57) = 112
1964 Johnson (56) + Goldwater (55) = 111
1872 Grant (50) + Greeley (61) = 111
1948 Truman (64) + Dewey (46) = 110

1972 Nixon (59) + McGovern (50) = 109
1912 Wilson (55) + T Roosevelt (54) = 109
1856 Buchanan (65) + Frémont (43) = 109

1788 Washington (56) + J Adams (53) = 109 - more of an acclamation than an election
1932 FDRoosevelt (50) + Hoover (58) = 108
1928 Hoover (54) + Smith (54) = 108

2000 GW Bush (54) + Gore (52) = 106
1940 FD Roosevelt (58) + Wilkie (48) = 106
1888 B Harrison (55) + Cleveland (51) = 106
1920 Harding (55) + Cox (50) = 105
1884 Cleveland (47) + Blaine (58) = 105
1944 FD Roosevelt (62) + Dewey (42) = 104
1880 Garfield (48) + Hancock (56) = 104
1868 Grant (46) + Seymour (58) = 104

1812 Madison (61) + DW Clinton (43) = 104
1936 FD Roosevelt (54) + Landon (49) = 103
1924 Coolidge (52) + Davis (51) = 103
1908 Taft (51) + Bryan (48) = 99
1904 T Roosevelt (46) + Parker (52) = 98
1900 McKinley (57) + Bryan (40) = 97
1864 Lincoln (55) + McClellan (37) = 92
1860 Lincoln (51) + Breckinridge (39) = 90

1960 Kennedy (42) + Nixon (47) = 89
1896 McKinley (53) + Bryan (36) = 89

Note on methodology: I've taken candidates' ages in calendar years on election day. (Which for Warren Harding was his 55th birthday, for all the good it did him.) In 1800 I count Adams (65) not Burr (44) as runner-up since that's who voters thought they were choosing between in November. For 1872 I've counted Greeley (61) as losing candidate even though he died shortly after the election; most of his electoral votes went to Thomas Hendricks (53) who went on to be Tilden's running mate in 1876 (they lost) and Cleveland's in 1884 (they won, but Hendricks died a few months after taking office). I have not counted third or lower placed candidates at all (thus excluding incumbent President Taft in 1912, when he was 55).

Incidentally the older candidate has won 33 times, and the younger 25 times. But those 33 include three elections which were really acclamations (1788, 1792 and 1820) so the fact that the Adamses were younger than Washington or Monroe doesn't really matter (indeed, there are good grounds for excluding those elections from my list entirely). The most recent period shows a shift of fortune in favour of (relative) youth; of the 17 most recent elections, the younger candidate has won nine and the older eight; the younger candidate has won the popular votre in each of the last seven elections (but lost twice in the electoral college).

We are not yet at the stage of Henry Gassaway Davis, who was the Democratic Party's candidate for Vice-President in 1904; election day was shortly before his 81st birthday. He and his presidential candidate, Alton B. Parker, lost the popular vote to Theodore Roosevelt and Charles Fairbanks by a margin of 19% in the popular vote and by 336 to 140 in the electoral college. But if Biden or Sanders contests the 2024 election, Davis's record will fall.
Tags: election: us: 2020 november, elections: usa
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