The Old Man and the Felon
Turning 80 and being charged with a felony are equally disqualifying.
I laughed out loud at the Gallup headline “Felonies, Old Age Heavily Count Against Candidates.” To quote Joan Ganz Cooney, “One of these things is not like the other.”
Depressingly, however, those polled view them equally disqualifying:
Less than a third of Americans say they would be willing to vote for someone nominated by their party who is over the age of 80 or has been charged with a felony or convicted of a felony by a jury. Somewhat more, but still less than half of Americans, say they would consider backing someone nominated by their party who is a socialist.
Gallup’s latest measure of Americans’ willingness to vote for presidential candidates with different personal backgrounds finds between 60% and 74% willing to support a gay or lesbian candidate, a Muslim, someone older than 70, or an atheist, while about a quarter to a third would not. Meanwhile, 88% of the public would support a Jewish candidate, and more than 90% would back a woman, Hispanic adult, Black adult or Catholic if their party happened to nominate someone with that background.
That there are still a significant number of Americans who would rule out a woman or someone who is Black, Hispanic, or Jewish is sad but not shocking. And, thankfully, the overwhelming number don’t see those attributes as disqualifying. Indeed, the respondents were actually more welcoming than I would have guessed of gay, Muslim, or atheist candidates.
But exactly the same percentage—two-thirds—find being over the age of 80 and charged with a felony crime disqualifying. And it’s not because they take “innocent until proven guilty” to extremes—the number barely moves when the theoretical candidate is convicted by a jury.
Rather obviously, this is not simply a theoretical exercise:
The poll addressed the issues of felonies and candidate age with separate questions each asked of about half of the poll’s respondents. The question about candidates older than 70 applies to both President Joe Biden, who is 81, and former President Donald Trump, who is 77. The questions about a candidate who has been charged with a felony and one who has been convicted by a jury would pertain only to Trump, who currently faces 91 felony counts in four separate criminal cases, some of which could be decided before Election Day.
Biden and Trump emerge as their parties’ presidential nominees this year (as they are on track to do, by virtue of their dominance in their respective primary fields), voters would face a choice between two of the most objectionable characteristics to Americans of those measured — someone who has been charged with a felony (Trump) and someone who is older than 80 (Biden).
An analysis of the responses of those answering both of these questions suggests that a slight majority of Americans (52%) would be unperturbed by the choice between Biden and Trump. These individuals indicate they would be comfortable voting for either someone who is over 80 (23%) or who has been charged with a felony (21%), or would feel comfortable with both types of candidates (8%).
On the other hand, 43% of respondents asked about voting for someone over 80 and someone charged with a felony say they would not vote for either type of candidate, while the remaining 5% are unsure about both.
Ah, but there’s a plot twist!
It turns out that partisanship matters.
With both major party front-runners over the age of 70, it is not surprising that majorities of Republicans and Democrats, as well as independents, say they would be willing to vote for a candidate older than 70. However, of the three political party groups, only Democrats are willing to vote for a candidate over 80 — and even then, a bare majority (53%) say they would do so.
Trump’s legal situation is undoubtedly why Republicans are more likely than Democrats to say they would vote for a candidate who has faced felony charges. Still, less than half of Republicans (46%) are willing to vote for someone charged with a felony, and even fewer (35%) are willing to vote for someone convicted of one.
In the abstract, I think 80 is too old to embark on a four-year stint in the most stressful, important job on the planet. In the particular, I think Joe Biden is too old to serve a second term. But, given that the alternative is to put Donald J. Trump back in the White House, I won’t hesitate to vote for him anyway.
For a committed Republican, however, Biden’s advanced age is magnified, and Trump’s criminality is minimized. The alternative, after all, is to re-elect a socialist! And he’s probably a criminal, too! Or, at least, his son is. So, really, six of one, half dozen of the other. And he’s really old!