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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Majority of Biden’s 2020 voters now say he’s too old to be effective

President Joe Biden meets with Border Patrol agents on a visit to Brownsville, Texas on Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024. Donald Trump visited Eagle Pass, Texas, a few hundred miles away, on the same day. (Kenny Holston/The New York Times)

By Lisa Lerer and Ruth Igielnik

Widespread concerns about President Joe Biden’s age pose a deepening threat to his reelection bid, with a majority of voters who supported him in 2020 now saying he is too old to lead the country effectively, according to a new poll by The New York Times and Siena College.

The survey pointed to a fundamental shift in how voters who backed Biden four years ago have come to see him. A striking 61% said they thought he was “just too old” to be an effective president.

A sizable share was even more worried: Nineteen percent of those who voted for Biden in 2020, and 13% of those who said they would back him in November, said the 81-year-old president’s age was such a problem that he was no longer capable of handling the job.

The misgivings about Biden’s age cut across generations, gender, race and education, underscoring the president’s failure to dispel both concerns within his own party and Republican attacks painting him as senile. Seventy-three percent of all registered voters said he was too old to be effective, and 45% expressed a belief that he could not do the job.

This unease, which has long surfaced in polls and in quiet conversations with Democratic officials, appears to be growing as Biden moves toward formally capturing his party’s nomination. The poll was conducted more than two weeks after scrutiny of his age intensified in early February, when a special counsel described him in a report as a “well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory” and “diminished faculties in advancing age.”

Previous polling suggests that voters’ reservations about Biden’s age have grown over time. In six top battleground states surveyed in October, 55% of those who voted for him in 2020 said they believed he was too old to be an effective president, a sharp increase from the 16% of Democrats who shared that concern in a slightly different set of swing states in 2020.

Voters have not expressed the same anxieties about Donald Trump, who at 77 is just four years Biden’s junior. Their likely rematch would make them the oldest presidential nominees in history.

If reelected, Biden would beat his own record as the oldest sitting president, while Trump would be the second-oldest if he won. Trump would be 82 at the end of the term, and Biden would be 86.

Otto Abad, 50, an independent voter in Scott, Louisiana, said he voted for Biden in 2020 but planned to flip his support to Trump if they faced off again. Last time, he wanted a less divisive figure in the White House after the chaos of the Trump administration. Now, he worries that Biden is not quite up for a second term.

“If he was in this sort of mental shape, I didn’t realize back then,” Abad said. “He’s aged a lot. With the exception of Trump, every president seems to age a lot during their presidency.”

He added: “Trump, one of the few things I would say good about him, is that nothing seems to bother him. He seems like he’s in the same mental shape he was 10 years ago, 12 years ago, 15 years ago. He’s like a cockroach.”

Abad is far from alone. Just 15% of voters who supported Trump in 2020 said they thought he was now too old to be an effective president, and 42% of all voters said the same — a much lower share than for Biden. Polling from the 2020 race indicates that the share of voters who believe Trump is too old has also increased over the past four years, but not as drastically as for Biden.

In the most recent Times survey, 19% of all voters said Trump’s age was such a problem that he was not capable of handling the presidency. And in a sign of Republicans’ far greater confidence in their likely nominee, less than 1% of voters who backed Trump in 2020 said his age made him incapable.

Biden and his allies have rejected anxieties about his age and mental acuity as unfair and inaccurate. His campaign says its coalition will again rally around the president once it fully recognizes that Trump could win back the White House. It also argues that Biden faced age concerns in 2020 and still won.

Yet Biden is now four years older, and it may be impossible to completely reassure voters about his age given the inexorable march of time. The poll indicates that the worries about him are not only pernicious but also now intertwined with how many voters view him.

Calvin Nurjadin, a Democrat in Cedar Park, Texas, who plans to support Biden in November, said he was unconvinced by politicians in his party who have publicly played up their direct observations of Biden’s mental sharpness.

“You’ve just kind of seen the clips of, you know, he’s having memories onstage and, you know, during debate and discussion where he kind of freezes up a lot,” said Nurjadin, who does data entry work. “Him being sharp and fit is not very convincing.”

Even though the country is bitterly divided and Republican voters have overwhelmingly negative views of Biden’s age, Democrats do not appear to be more worried about the effects of time on Trump than on Biden. Similar shares of Democrats said each man was too old to be effective.

The poll tried to understand in greater depth how voters thought about Biden’s and Trump’s abilities. The survey first asked if each man was too old to be effective. Voters who said yes were asked a follow-up question about whether that age was such a problem that Biden or Trump was not capable of handling the job, a stronger measure that prompted voters to consider the candidate’s basic fitness for office.

Shermaine Elmore, 44, a small-business owner in Baltimore, voted for Biden four years ago, backing the Democratic candidate as he had in previous elections.

But he said he had made more money under Trump, blaming inflation and gas prices for his losses during the Biden administration. He planned to vote for Trump this fall.

Of Biden, he said: “I don’t think he’s in the best health to make a decision if the country needs the president to make a decision.”

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