As the newly anointed GOP frontrunner, Newt Gingrich is facing increased scrutiny about his record, policy proposals and temperament. But so far, Gingrich’s age – he will turn 69 next summer – has virtually escaped notice.
This marks quite a change from the last presidential campaign, when then 72-year-old John McCain faced persistent questions about his age and health. And in 1996, there was widespread concern over 73-year-old Bob Dole’s age. Ronald Reagan confronted perhaps the toughest questions about his age, mostly during his reelection campaign in 1984, but also in 1980. Reagan turned 69 a few weeks before that year’s New Hampshire primary.
McCain’s age, in particular, was on the mind of voters during the 2008 campaign. In February 2008, after McCain won a series of pivotal GOP primaries, voters were asked which single word best described him: “Old” was by far the top response, outnumbering mentions of “honest,” “experienced” and “patriot.” At that time, roughly a third of voters said McCain was too old to be president, which was comparable to the percentage expressing that opinion about Dole in 1996.
Read the full report, For Gingrich, Age May Just Be a Number, on the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press' Web site.