Former ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley would like to be president. Step 1 of that plan is to become the Republican Party’s nominee — a step that, as you know, isn’t going terribly well. Yes, she’s one of two remaining candidates, but that’s a bit like saying that Pete Best is one of two remaining Beatles drummers.
Despite having edged past a dozen or so other candidates to reach second place, Haley hasn’t changed one of the central elements of her campaign rhetoric: that President Biden and the Republican front-runner, Donald Trump, are too old for the job. Nor has she given up on extending that criticism to Congress. Over the weekend, she again described Congress as “the most privileged nursing home in America.”
Riffing on lawmakers’ ages is a popular pastime in the United States. But it’s a bit riskier coming from a candidate who is more dependent on older people than most.
Last year, we used data on registered voters to show the distribution of partisan identities by age. Independents skewed young. Republicans skewed much older.
Unsurprisingly, older counties (using the median ages measured by the Census Bureau) tended to vote more heavily for Donald Trump in the 2020 general election. You can see that roughly below; as dots (counties) move to the right (bigger margins for Trump), the median age rises.
The U.S. county with the highest median age, incidentally, is Sumter County, Fla. That’s where you can find the Villages, the gigantic community dedicated to older Americans.
If we average the median ages across counties relative to their 2020 vote (those that voted for Trump by 20 to 40 points, by 40 to 60 points, etc.), you can see that the average trends up. While some of the youngest counties voted heavily for Trump, counties that he won by 20 points or more had average median ages of 42 or so.
Admittedly, Congress is a lot older than this. The median age of members of the House and the Senate is 60.
To be pedantic, though, nursing homes — as opposed to senior living or even something like the Villages — tend to cater to much older residents. Research suggests that nursing home residents are generally well over 80 years old. (Twenty members of Congress have reached that age.)
When Haley used this line last year, she tailored it more narrowly, saying that it was the Senate that was the privileged nursing home. That gets her a little closer; the Senate is significantly older on average than the House (64 to 58). Interestingly, her party’s caucuses in Congress are younger on average than the Democrats’.
Haley has generally been careful to soften her criticisms of Biden’s and Trump’s ages, suggesting that she is simply speaking a lamentable, hard truth. The riff about the age of members of Congress, though, seems a bit less generous — even as it targets people at a young, more common age.
In the Iowa caucuses this month, Haley came in third. Trump beat her among caucusgoers 65 and older by nearly 3-to-1, according to entrance polls, while she and Trump drew about the same amount of support from those under 30.
In New Hampshire, where she came in second, she did better with older voters than younger ones. (Trump beat her across all age groups.) Among Republicans, though — an important consideration in a state where lots of independents voted — Trump beat her by more than 40 points.
Might be time to retire this particular talking point.
Emily Guskin contributed to this report.