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Just a Number? Voter Evaluations of Age in Candidate-Choice Experiments

Around the world, humans are living longer and politicians are getting older. But what do voters think about politicians of advanced age? We conduct a meta-analysis of 16 conjoint design-based candidate-choice experiments in seven democracies, revealing that older hypothetical candidates are consistently less likely to be favored by respondents—whether compared to the youngest alternative or the second-oldest alternative. We then report the findings of a novel conjoint experiment on Japanese voters designed to elicit whether the milestone of entering a new decade of age (70 vs. 69 years) affects respondents’ preferences for hypothetical candidates. Although at most 730 days separate candidates of these ages (limiting concerns of substantial differences in health or fitness), we find a significant penalty for the older candidate. Together, our findings highlight the mismatch between voters’ preferences for younger politicians and the ostensible gerontocracy that governs much of the world.