Should A Candidate's Age Matter in Presidential Elections?

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Photo by David Everett Strickler on Unsplash
Created: 19 June, 2024
7 min read

Editor's Note: The following piece features a debate on how age should factor into presidential elections that originally published on Divided We Fall. It includes perspectives from Ambassador Charles Ray and George Mason University graduate Dunni Oni. The piece has been published with permission from Divided We Fall

Photo by David Everett Strickler on Unsplash


Presidential Age Should Be Considered for the Candidates

By Dunni Oni – Recent Graduate, George Mason University

At almost 79 years old, Ambassador Ray’s experience and abilities make a compelling case for why age should not be a barrier to holding public office. While his viewpoint is notable, I nonetheless believe age should be considered when determining a candidate’s eligibility for public office. This is not because older people are not as capable as younger ones; rather, it’s about making sure that the new generation has opportunities to hold prominent positions while older individuals are around to guide them.

While Ambassador Ray’s achievements are impressive because they demonstrate that some people may remain highly functional as they age, this doesn’t apply to everyone. Aging is not a uniform process; each person ages and develops differently. When assessing skills and talents, especially for positions as demanding as the presidency, it is difficult to generalize because aging affects individuals differently.

We Need to Give Younger Generations a Chance

Government positions serve as forums for innovation and change. Younger people have new insights and ideas, and they are frequently more aware of the changing societal needs and developments in technology. Experienced politicians can guarantee continued leadership and a more seamless transfer of knowledge from one generation to the next by coaching and preparing newer individuals. Mentoring younger individuals addresses the concerns of policymakers regarding a potential death while in office, which can cause continuity and governance issues.

Additionally, holding an important political position such as president can be taxing on one’s health. Presidents and other high-ranking leaders are known to age more quickly than an average person because of the stress associated with their positions. Selecting an older candidate for the position, could hasten these impacts and affect the candidate’s capacity to function well during their term.

Presidential Age Should Be Viewed as Part of the Big Picture

Even if age by itself is an unreliable indicator of health, the effects of aging are a reality that cannot be denied. While evaluating a candidate’s abilities and experience is important, the larger picture of age-related decline is also important and should be considered. It would be ageism to automatically assume that older people are necessarily less capable. However, it’s crucial to consider both the need for the generational transfer of knowledge and a candidate’s physical and mental wellness.

Ultimately, presidential age alone shouldn’t be a determining factor, as Ambassador Ray argues against, but there is a strong argument for taking it into account in a larger context. By doing this, we may find a middle ground between rewarding the knowledge and expertise of more senior candidates and giving younger ones a chance to influence the course of our society.

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Presidential Age Should Not be a Determining Factor

By Charles Ray – Former U.S. Ambassador; Chair of the Africa Program, Foreign Policy Research Institute

Ms. Oni raises valid points about empowering the younger generation to lead. In many ways, we are not in disagreement at all, but there are a few points that I must address for better clarification of my original premise, which is that age alone should not be a determinant of fitness for elective office, even the highest office in the land.

Everything Ms. Oni mentioned about the aging process is correct and should certainly be taken into account when casting a ballot for president or any other political office. We must keep in mind, however, that there are no iron-clad guarantees. Everyone responds to stimuli, including getting older, in a different manner. The same is true of stress, which I’ve observed can have as deleterious an effect on young people as it does on older individuals. In fact, because older people often have more experience dealing with stress, the impact may be less.

The Constitution Ensures Continuity

As for continuity in office, that is important—no disagreement there. But, again, this is a factor that warrants attention regardless of an incumbent’s age, which is why we have succession plans in our government organizations. Regarding the president’s office, succession plans are enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. As we saw when John F. Kennedy was assassinated or when Ronald Reagan was hospitalized after an assassination attempt, the government continues to function as it should if the head of state dies while in office.

The ultimate criteria for any position should be whether the individual can fulfill the duties of the office and that decision should be based on observable criteria. Age, in the absence of the negative signs of an age-related disorder, should not be one of those criteria.

Consider Presidential Age Among Other Factors

By Dunni Oni – Recent Graduate, George Mason University

Even though our points of view are different, Ambassador Ray and I have a lot in common. We both believe that a candidate’s age alone should not prevent them from holding public office and that actual qualifications should be considered. We also agree that succession planning plays a crucial role in preserving government continuity and giving subsequent generations a chance to lead.

Through prioritizing mentorship from more seasoned politicians to more junior, up-and-coming leaders, we can cultivate a political climate that appreciates both intelligence and creativity. When we prepare the next generation for leadership roles and leverage the knowledge of seasoned leaders, a more resilient and dynamic political landscape is created.

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A multigenerational approach to leadership can assist in addressing the various demands and viewpoints of the people. Younger leaders are vital to our growth because they frequently provide novel concepts and creative answers to modern problems such as climate change and technological change. However, more seasoned executives can steer these initiatives with their insightful historical analysis and strategic thinking. This combination of viewpoints can result in more comprehensive and well-rounded policy choices.

Mentoring and Diversity Programs Fortify Democracy

Ultimately, it will take structural adjustments to our current methods of electoral politics to create a climate in which both inexperienced and seasoned leaders can flourish. Generational knowledge and skill sharing can be facilitated by formal mentoring programs established within government agencies and political parties. Promoting laws that support diversity in terms of age, gender, and background in political positions can also fortify our democratic processes and guarantee that our leadership is representative of the diverse fabric of our community.

This constructive dialogue demonstrates how different viewpoints can coexist and even strengthen one another, resulting in more inclusive and powerful decision-making processes. Voters should focus on a candidate’s overall fitness for office rather than just their age as a determining factor as the 2024 election cycle draws near. By doing this, we can elect leaders who are not only capable of meeting the demands of office but also dedicated to setting an example for future generations.


About The Authors

Charles Ray retired from the US Foreign Service in 2012 after a 30-year career. Prior to joining the Foreign Service, he spent 20 years in the US Army. During his 30 years in the Foreign Service, he was posted to China, Thailand, Sierra Leona, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Zimbabwe. He served as deputy chief of mission in Sierra Leone, was the first US consul general in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, and served as ambassador to Cambodia and Zimbabwe. Since his retirement from public service in 2012, he has been a full-time freelance writer, lecturer, and consultant, and has done research on leadership and ethics. He is the author of more than 200 books of fiction and nonfiction. Ray is a trustee and chair of the Africa Program of the Foreign Policy Research Institute.

Dunni Oni is a native of Prince George's County, MD. She is a recent graduate of George Mason University, where she obtained her Bachelor of Arts in English and Master of Science in Criminal Justice. Dunni is passionate about politics, social activism, and human rights. She plans on entering the legal field in hopes of becoming a judge one day and serving her community in the political realm as a state senator.

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