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Defying the Odds

Defying the Odds
New book about the 2016 election.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Newt's Age

One non-issue in the campaign so far is Newt Gingrich's age. On Election Day 2012, he will be 69 years old, the same age as Ronald Reagan in 1980. Though there was some talk of Reagan's age in 1980 --and a great deal of talk about McCain's age four years ago -- Gingrich's senior status has gotten scant attention. The Pew Research Center reports:
By all appearances, Gingrich is healthy and vigorous. But there are other reasons why age may end up being less of an issue for the soon-to-be septuagenarian. For one thing, he would not be breaking any age barriers. In 1984, Reagan had to overcome the stigma of being the oldest presidential candidate in the nation’s history. Dole and McCain had the unwelcome distinction of being the oldest to run for a first term. Gingrich’s age also does not particularly distinguish him from current GOP candidates. At 64, Mitt Romney is only four years younger than Gingrich; at 76, Ron Paul is eight years older.

Moreover, the population itself is aging. The fastest-growing segment of the population over the past decade, according to the latest Census, is people age 45 to 62. The next fastest growing segment? Those 62 and older.

The Republican base also is getting older. A 2009 analysis of party identification trends by the Pew Research Center found that the percentage of all Republicans who are 50 and older increased by 10 points – from 36% to 46% – between 1990 and 2009; the percentage of Democrats 50 and older held steady over this period (44% in 2009).

Even in a general election against Barack Obama, who will turn 51 in August, it is hard to imagine Gingrich’s age making much difference. Certainly, to young adults, Gingrich might seem old in comparison to Obama. A 2009 report by the Pew Research Center’s Social and Demographic Trends Project found that more than half of those under 30 say the average person becomes old even before turning 60. But that view is not shared by older age groups: For those in their 30s and 40s the mean age at which someone becomes “old” is 69. It is even higher –in the early 70s – for those in their 50s or older.