The Older the Pol, the More Californians Like Them

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

Californians may worship youth and beauty in some things, but not when it comes to choosing political executives.

 Indeed, the older the politician, the more we are inclined to support him or her.

 We keep electing Dianne Feinstein, now the oldest member of the U.S. Senate, even though, polls suggest, we don’t particularly agree with her or like.

 We elected Jerry Brown to his second governorship when he was 72—older than the age of any new American president—and kept him in office past his 80th birthday.  

 And we’re still pining for him, even though our new governor, who is inaccurately described as young, is at 52 old enough to be an AARP member. And Newsom won the governorship in a race against Antonio Villaraigosa, who, despite being old enough to be Medicare eligible, was described as young.

 Now the presidential primary is following the pattern. At the top of the polls sit the three oldest candidates, with the two oldest, Sanders and Biden leading, followed by old but ever so slightly younger Elizabeth Warren.

 Pete Buttigieg may be doing well in other states, but he’s clearly too young for Californians, who give him only single-digit support. Indeed, our own U.S. senator, 50-something Kamala Harris, had to bow out because we liked elderly out-of-state politicians more than her.

 What’s behind our preference for the old? The state is rapidly aging—Los Angeles, by some accounts, is aging more rapidly than any other American city. And while the state’s population remains relatively young, our voting population is very old—the average age has been 60 in some elections. 

The good news for younger, more ambitious politicians here is this: if you live long enough, you might get elected to something big.

And for political prognosticators, the California lessons is simple. Always bet on the geezer.

 

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