President Biden’s campaign team — not to mention his administration staff — are understandably annoyed at the level of attention that’s been paid to his age. Polling has shown that voters are particularly concerned about how old Biden is, something that many of his allies attribute largely to media coverage.
For the moment, one angle of response has been to contrast Biden’s perceived slip-ups — at times ones that are downstream from Republican efforts to portray anodyne occurrences as age-related gaffes — with errors made by his likely 2024 opponent, Donald Trump. Trump has no shortage of verbal mistakes; on Monday, for example, he said Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban was Turkey’s head of state. Biden’s team appears to be transitioning from shrugging off the age issue with jokes and, instead, pulling Trump in after them.
This effort raises an interesting question: Do Americans view Biden as disproportionately old relative to Trump? He is slightly older, at 80, than his predecessor in the presidency; Trump is 77. Is some part of the diverging reactions to their age a function of Americans assuming Biden is much older or Trump is much younger than each actually is?
Polling by YouGov shared with The Washington Post answers that question: No.
YouGov presented a number of elected officials to a national pool of respondents, who were asked to guess the politicians’ ages within a range from 18 to 120. For Biden, the average guess landed at 79, just shy of his actual age, while the median — the point at which half of the guesses were higher and half lower — was right on the money at 80. Guesses of Trump’s age were similarly close; the average was off by one year and the median by three.
For other politicians and candidates, the guesses were more distant. On average, the median response from YouGov’s poll participants was about 5.6 years away from the candidate’s actual age. That was pushed higher by three specific candidates: Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who was viewed as younger than he actually is, and by 2024 Republican presidential candidates Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) and Vivek Ramaswamy. Each of them was viewed as older than his age.
About a third of those who were asked to guess Biden’s age put him at the correct figure of 80. The guesses follow a rough bell curve, increasing before and after 80. (Some respondents, not taking the whole thing terribly seriously, estimated that he was 120 — or 18.) The curve of responses for Trump skewed slightly younger — both because Trump is younger and because the guesses were slightly more likely to understate his age.
Interestingly, there isn’t even much of a partisan divide on this question. The most commonly guessed age for Biden and Trump among both Democrats and Republicans was the actual age of each.
That said, you can see in the image above that the guesses among Republicans shift slightly to the right for Biden — that is, older — and slightly to the left for Trump. The average guess of each presidential candidate’s age was wider among Republicans than Democrats, six vs. two years.
But the average Republican guesses were more accurate, thanks largely to their correctly estimating how old Biden is.
This is largely an intellectual exercise, a point of numerical curiosity. It does offer some bad news for Biden, though, in that it suggests Americans understand that Trump is nearly as old as Biden is — and still view his age with much more concern than they do the Republican candidate’s.