Guessing the age of presidential candidates

William JordanUS Elections Editor
December 15, 2015, 3:12 PM GMT+0

Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz are the same age, but Rubio is seen as the young one.

As he has risen in the party and then in the presidential campaign, there have been repeated questions about whether Marco Rubio’s youth and “boyish” looks are a good fit for the Republican primary. As Toni Monovic noted in the New York Times, there has been no such fixation about Ted Cruz, despite Cruz being only about six months older than Rubio. Do voters draw a distinction, too? It appears they do, according to a new YouGov survey.

When presented with a picture of either candidate and asked “How old do you think he is?” the average age given for Marco Rubio is 44. For Cruz, it’s 49. The Texas senator is actually the only leading candidate who is perceived as older than he is.

The survey also asked about several other major presidential candidates from both parties, with some surprising findings. Hillary Clinton, whose campaign is reportedly grappling with how to connect with younger women, is actually seen to be four years younger than her actual age (68). Even larger gaps exist between perception and reality for Jeb Bush, Ben Carson and Donald Trump, all of whom are seen to be younger than they really are.

Interestingly, none of these four candidates, nor G.O.P. frontrunner Donald Trump, are in their 50s – in the range that the majority of Republicans or Democrats say is “ideal” for a president starting his or her first term. This may simply point to the problems with looking for an “ideal” age at all.

Yet voters from both parties do seem to be shifting in their priorities when it comes to age and experience compared to recent elections. Another question asks respondents whether it is more important that a candidate for president display “new direction and new ideas” or “strength and experience”. In 2007, when then-Senator Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were battling for the nomination, most Democrats said they wanted “new ideas”. Now, the majority (52%) call for “strength and experience”.

In contrast, as early as April this year, 59% of Republicans opted for experience – now, with the Republican field led by two candidates with zero elected political experience (Donald Trump and Ben Carson) and two freshman senators (Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz), the script is flipped. 53% want a new direction, and support for experience is down to 40%.

Whatever happens, 2016 is shaping up to be a year of age milestones for presidential candidates. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz will both be 45 on Election Day, making either the youngest presidential candidate representing the Grand Old Party since Thomas E. Dewey in 1944 (he was 42). On the other side of the aisle a milestone is almost assured: either Hillary Clinton (69 on Election Day) or Bernie Sanders (75) would be the oldest Democratic nominee in the 188-year history of their party.

PA image

Full poll results can be found here and topline results and margin of error here.

Explore more data & articles