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Felonies, Old Age Heavily Count Against Candidates

Story Highlights

  • Few Americans willing to say they’d back a candidate charged with a felony
  • Nearly as many reluctant to vote for someone older than 80
  • Vast majority would back a woman, Hispanic adult, Catholic or Black adult

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Less than a third of Americans say they would be willing to vote for someone nominated by their party who is over the age of 80 or has been charged with a felony or convicted of a felony by a jury. Somewhat more, but still less than half of Americans, say they would consider backing someone nominated by their party who is a socialist.

Gallup’s latest measure of Americans’ willingness to vote for presidential candidates with different personal backgrounds finds between 60% and 74% willing to support a gay or lesbian candidate, a Muslim, someone older than 70, or an atheist, while about a quarter to a third would not. Meanwhile, 88% of the public would support a Jewish candidate, and more than 90% would back a woman, Hispanic adult, Black adult or Catholic if their party happened to nominate someone with that background.


These results are based on a Gallup poll conducted Jan. 2-22.

The poll addressed the issues of felonies and candidate age with separate questions each asked of about half of the poll’s respondents. The question about candidates older than 70 applies to both President Joe Biden, who is 81, and former President Donald Trump, who is 77. The questions about a candidate who has been charged with a felony and one who has been convicted by a jury would pertain only to Trump, who currently faces 91 felony counts in four separate criminal cases, some of which could be decided before Election Day.

Close to Half of Americans Could Be Hard-Pressed to Choose

Should Biden and Trump emerge as their parties’ presidential nominees this year (as they are on track to do, by virtue of their dominance in their respective primary fields), voters would face a choice between two of the most objectionable characteristics to Americans of those measured — someone who has been charged with a felony (Trump) and someone who is older than 80 (Biden).

An analysis of the responses of those answering both of these questions suggests that a slight majority of Americans (52%) would be unperturbed by the choice between Biden and Trump. These individuals indicate they would be comfortable voting for either someone who is over 80 (23%) or who has been charged with a felony (21%), or would feel comfortable with both types of candidates (8%).

On the other hand, 43% of respondents asked about voting for someone over 80 and someone charged with a felony say they would not vote for either type of candidate, while the remaining 5% are unsure about both.

Broad Bipartisan Support for a Female, Hispanic, Black or Jewish Candidate

There is little difference by party in Americans’ willingness to support a candidate nominated by their party if that person were a woman or a Hispanic, Black, Catholic or Jewish adult. On the other hand, Democrats — and, to a lesser extent, independents — are much more willing than Republicans to support candidates who are gay or lesbian, Muslim, atheist, or socialist.

With both major party front-runners over the age of 70, it is not surprising that majorities of Republicans and Democrats, as well as independents, say they would be willing to vote for a candidate older than 70. However, of the three political party groups, only Democrats are willing to vote for a candidate over 80 — and even then, a bare majority (53%) say they would do so.

Trump’s legal situation is undoubtedly why Republicans are more likely than Democrats to say they would vote for a candidate who has faced felony charges. Still, less than half of Republicans (46%) are willing to vote for someone charged with a felony, and even fewer (35%) are willing to vote for someone convicted of one.


The Evolution of Tolerance for Diverse Candidates

Gallup first asked a version of this question in 1937, probing Americans’ willingness to vote for a well-qualified Catholic, Jewish or female candidate — at a time when all presidents (and all but one major party nominee) up to that point had been White Protestant men. The trends since show a major increase in societal willingness to vote for all three types of candidates.

By 1999, more than 90% said they would vote for a Black, Catholic, Jewish or female candidate, and by 2012, Hispanic adults had reached this threshold. Support for all of these characteristics remains at that level today — except for Jewish candidates, who have seen a slip in support since 2020, from 93% to 88%.


Meanwhile, the percentages of Americans willing to vote for a gay or lesbian candidate, a Muslim, or an atheist have all grown over time but remain below 80%. Muslims are the only group Americans have grown more likely to vote for since 2020, rising from 66% to 71%.


Bottom Line

Americans express broad willingness to vote for candidates from several gender, racial and religious backgrounds that largely haven’t been represented in the White House. However, advanced age and being the subject of a felony probe are two characteristics Americans are not inclined to reward at the ballot box.

Given today’s highly polarized environment, partisanship may very well quash these concerns. To the extent it doesn’t, some voters may resort to a lesser of two evils calculation, while others may go the third-party route or simply choose not to vote.

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