What’s age got to do with running for president?

The three top contenders – Clinton, Trump, Sanders – defy stereotypes about older people, and even attract younger voters. If age ‘ain’t nothing but a number,’ the 2016 contest shows it.

AP Photo
Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., poses for a selfie with a young supporter in Norfolk, Va.

Who’s counting? That’s a serious question to ask in the 2016 presidential campaign. Voters in both parties, it seems, do not care much about the advanced ages of the three front-runners.

If either Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump were to be elected, they would beat Ronald Reagan’s record as America’s oldest president. And Hillary Clinton would come in a close second. All three are already grandparents and, as seen in their campaign vigor, defy any stigma of a person’s decline after age 65.

What’s more, the two oldest candidates (Mr. Sanders and Mr. Trump) have won over the under-30 voters in most contests and also promise to bring about the most change. And many Millennials not only prefer the baby boomer candidates (Trump and Clinton) but also the pre-baby boomer (Sanders).

The iPod generation has embraced the Woodstock generation.

The absence of age discrimination in the current contest is remarkable compared with past races. In 2008, for example, nearly a quarter of voters felt that the age of Republican candidate John McCain (then 71) would make him less effective as a president.

If there is any age discrimination this year, it may be against Marco Rubio. Many voters claim he is “too young.” If elected, however, he would be older than were John Kennedy and Teddy Roosevelt as new presidents.

The last time a candidate’s age became a major issue in a presidential campaign was in 1984. But that may have also broken a stereotype about older politicians. When Reagan was asked about his age in a debate, he cleverly quipped: “I will not make age an issue.... I am not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent’s youth and inexperience.” (He was up against a much younger Walter Mondale.)

The age-denial aspect of this year’s contest may merely reflect a broader shift among Americans, many of whom might agree that chronological age is “nothing but a number.”

For the first time since 1948, the number of workers over 65 is greater than the number of teenagers. By 2024, an estimated 40 percent of men ages 65 to 69 will be in the workforce, up from 24 percent three decades earlier.

Even though many older people must work to supplement their retirement income, their presence in the workforce is now more welcome. Several studies find countries gain in per capita output if workers stay on past normal retirement age. This is good news for the global economy. By 2050, the share of senior citizens in the world’s population is expected to triple.

Obviously, many older folks did not get the memo about decrepitude in later years – or simply choose to ignore it. Certainly the top three contenders in the presidential race are doing that. And most voters agree.

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