Mike Vaughan

Michael B. Vaughan is a professor of economics and director of the Center for the Study of Poverty and Inequality at Weber State University.

In 1980, Ronald Reagan was elected president at age 69. At that time, Reagan was the oldest person to be elected president. During the campaign, some made an issue of Reagan’s age. The concern over Reagan’s age was warranted. Before he left office, he was showing obvious signs of dementia and subsequently was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

On Oct. 2, Bernie Sanders underwent surgery for a heart problem. This event highlights the fact that Sanders is 78 years old. The other Democratic frontrunners are not much younger. Joe Biden is 76 and Elizabeth Warren is 70. Donald Trump is 73. The winner of the 2020 presidential election is likely to be a septuagenarian.

The aging of the presidency is a relatively recent phenomenon. Of the 45 people to occupy the presidency, three-quarters were under age 60 at the time of their initial election. From 1861 to 1933, no one over age 60 was inaugurated for their first term as president.

Why has the presidency started to age? One factor is the fact that people are living and staying active for longer. In the 1950s, the average age of someone moving into a nursing home was 65. Today, that age is past 80.

Yet, increasing longevity is not the only factor. Another is the fact that voters tend to vote for candidates they identify with. In the 2016 presidential election, the older candidate, Trump, received 53% of the vote from those 65 and older while the younger candidate, Clinton, received only 44%. The pattern was reversed for younger voters. Clinton received 58% of the votes from those under 30 while Trump received only 28%.

The age demographic of voters becomes critically important when you consider that older people are far more likely to vote than younger people. In the 2018 elections, more than two-thirds of those 65 and older voted, but almost two-thirds of those under age 30 did not vote. Those 65 and older have the highest rates of voter participation, and those under 30 have the lowest rates.

The lack of voter participation among the young is especially astonishing when you consider some of the key issues confronting voters: the environment and climate change, the national debt, affordable college tuition, student loan debt, the prospects of finding meaningful employment and globalization. All of these issues should matter more to those with most of their life remaining than to those with most of their life in the past.

In essence, those under 30 are letting those 65 and older decide their future. Here are some questions for those under 30.

Would you let your grandmother pick your clothes for you? Would you set your car radio to that oldies station your grandfather listens to and leave it there for a month? Do you use the same type of social media as your grandparents? When you think about fine dining, does the early-bird special at Denny’s come to mind? How often do you show up at McDonald’s at 8 in the morning to nurse a $1 cup of coffee for the next two hours?

I am pretty sure I know the answers. That brings me to more important questions. Why is the younger generation letting the older generation determine the outcome of the presidential election? Why is the younger generation letting the older generation determine their future?

If you are old enough to vote, you need to register to vote, and you need to vote. The preponderance of those 65 and older do just that, and they have a meaningful influence on the outcomes of elections. The preponderance of those under 30 neglect to do so, and their influence is far less than it could be.

In 1961, John F. Kennedy proclaimed, “The torch has been passed to a new generation.” It is time to pass the torch once again. That can happen as soon as the next election.

Mail ballots were sent to registered voters on Oct. 15. For those who have not registered, there is still time. In fact, voters who wait to the last minute may register at a polling location and vote with a provisional ballot on the day of the election, Nov. 5.

Michael B. Vaughan is a professor of economics and director of the Center for the Study of Poverty and Inequality at Weber State University.

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