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Rise of the gerontocracy: U.S. presidential race shaping up to be greyest in history

A closer look at the day's most notable stories with The National's Jonathon Gatehouse: slate of candidates for 2020 presidential race is out of step with U.S. demographic reality; RCMP mounts unusual campaign to scare drivers into slowing down using life-sized cutouts of their huskiest officer.

Newsletter: A closer look at the day's most notable stories

U.S. President Donald Trump is the oldest-ever first-term president of the United States, and in the race for the 2020 presidency he's up against one of the oldest slates of candidates to date. (Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

Welcome to The National Today newsletter, which takes a closer look at what's happening around some of the day's most notable stories. Sign up here and it will be delivered directly to your inbox Monday to Friday.


  • The slate of candidates in the 2020 U.S. presidential race is way out of step with the country's demographic reality.
  • In the Vancouver suburb of Port Coquitlam, where RCMP officers have mounted an unusual campaign to scare drivers into slowing down using life-sized cutouts of their huskiest officer.
  • Missed The National last night? Watch it here.

America's gerontocracy

With an age of 70 years, seven months and seven days at his inauguration, Donald Trump is the oldest-ever first-term president of the United States.

And should he succeed in his 2020 re-election bid, he'll be closing in on his 75th birthday.

Most American presidents — 25 and counting — have been in their 50s when first elected. Nine have been in their 40s, and 10 in their 60s. Trump is the only septuagenarian.

The 2016 race for the White House was the greyest to date, with the Democrats fielding 69-year-old Hilary Clinton.

And 2020 appears to be shaping up as more of an assisted walk, with former Vice-President Joe Biden, currently 76, and Bernie Sanders, age 77, leading the crowded Democratic field.

Former Vice President Joe Biden waves to supporters in Washington on April 5. (Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

The 20 candidates now seeking the party nomination range in age from 37-year-old Pete Buttigieg to the senior-most Sanders, a four-decade spread.

Combined, they offer 1,068 years of experience, for an average age of 53.4 years.

At this early stage the polls suggest Biden and Sanders are theold men to beat, respectivelyrunning at 29.3 and 23 per cent, nationally.

Democratic presidential candidate, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), addresses a crowd in Wilkes Barre, Penn., on April 15. (Mark Makela/Getty Images)

Kamala Harris, who is 54, has 8.3 per cent of the Democratic support, following by Buttigieg at 7.5 per cent. Elizabeth Warren, age 69, sits fifth at 6.5 per cent, closely followed by 46-year-old Beto O'Rourke at 6.3 per cent. Everyone else is in the count-on-one-hand club.

Trump's only declared Republican challenger, former Massachuesetts Gov. William F. Weld, turns 74 this summer.

America's aging politics are also on display in Congress.

Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, is 79 — the same age as Steny Hoyer, the Democratic majority leader.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) speaks to media in Somerville, Mass., on April 12. (Scott Eisen/Getty Images)

Mitch McConnell, the Republican who controls the Senate, is 77. Chuck Schumer, the ranking Democrat, is 68.

The average age of the members of the House of Representatives was 57.6 years, versus 62.9 years in the Senate, when the new Congress convened in January. That ranks it among the oldest in U.S. history.

The youngest current U.S. legislator is 29-year-old Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The eldest are Rep. Don Young and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, both of whom will turn 86 this June.

All of which is out of step with the country's demographic reality.

Like most developed nations, the U.S. population is aging, but not nearly as quickly as its politicians. The median age is now around 38.

But the millennials, aged 23 to 38, are now America's largest living adult generation, as the Boomers die off. And the millennial population will keep growing as their ranks expand through immigration and naturalization, reaching an expected peak of 76.2 million in 2036 when the eldest among them will be 56.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) during an interview in her office at the Capitol in Washington on April 10. (J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)

By 2020, the U.S. electorate will also be quite different from when Trump won his first term.

For the first time, Hispanics will be the largest minority group, accounting for 13 per cent of eligible voters, more than blacks. And overall, non-white voters will make up a third of the electorate — some 73 million voters — their biggest share ever.

As well, one in 10 eligible voters will have been born outside of the United States. The same proportion that will be aged 18 to 23, the leading edge of Generation Z.

At the same time, there will be more 65+ year-old voters than at any point in the past 50 years, a function of the increasing life span of Americans. Although the Baby Boomers and older generations will account just 40 per cent of eligible voters, down from 68 per cent in 2000.

On the surface, all of that would seem to favour the Democrats, who have historically done better with minorities and younger voters.

(Trump's overall job approval rating is hovering around 40 per cent right now, but dips to 36 per cent among 30- to 44-year-olds, and sits at just 28 per cent among the 18-to-29 set.)

Supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump attend a rally in Las Vegas in September 2018. The oldest generations in the U.S. had the highest voter turnout rates in the 2016 election, with 70.9 per cent of 65+ voters casting a ballot, and 66.6 per cent of 45-to-64-year olds. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

The wildcard will be voter turnout.

The oldest generationshad the highest rates in the 2016 election, with 70.9 per cent of 65+ voters casting a ballot, and 66.6 per cent of 45-to-64-year olds, compared to 58.7 per cent turnout for 30- to-44-year olds, and 46.1 per cent among the youngest voters.

All of which meant that the Boomers and their seniors, who made up 43 per cent of eligible voters, ended up casting almost 50 per cent of the ballots.

White voters also came out in increased numbers in 2016, while the number of black voters decreased and Hispanic turnout stayed flat.

It's not clear if things will break the same way in 2020, but it helps explain the kind of choices that voters are currently being presented.

In the United States, fortune favours the old.

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Constable Scarecrow

Reporter Briar Stewart and producer Chris Corday spent time with police in the Vancouver suburb of Port Coquitlam, where RCMP officers have mounted an unusual campaign to scare drivers into slowing down using life-sized cutouts of their huskiest officer.

A hulking traffic cop doesn't often bring a smile to drivers' faces when they get pulled over for speeding, but Constable Matt Ericson may be the one exception.

Ericson's face has become well-known to commuters in Port Coquitlam, B.C., where the RCMP has printed metal decoys featuring his imposing likeness pointing a radar gun. They've started planting them at the side of busy suburban roads.

The idea is that drivers will see what looks like a radar trap and slow down.

RCMP Constable Matt Ericson holds a radar gun and hides behind a life-sized metal cutout of himself in Port Coquitlam, B.C., on the lookout for people breaking the speed limit. The cutouts, which look like a police radar trap, are placed alongside streets where speeding is a problem in a bid to get drivers to slow down. (Briar Stewart/CBC)

The program is successful enough that other forces are starting to pay attention, although it's not a complete solution to the speeding problem. On this rainy day, we watched as Ericson ducked neatly behind his doppelganger on Pitt River Road and aimed a real radar gun.

Within minutes, he had pulled over a steady stream of drivers going well over the 50 kilometre-per-hour limit.

Despite the $193 ticket they were about to be handed, at least one driver laughed and broke into a wide grin after recognizing just who'd caught them speeding.

"Is that you?," giggled the driver of a white Tesla as Ericson walked up to her window in front of the decoy.

"People are very excited to be receiving a speeding ticket from me," said Cst. Ericson.

"At the end of the day it's about education and prevention. So we take that moment to have a conversation, and they walk away with a smile on their face and my autograph."

Ericson's celebrity is growing. The manufactured mounties with his image are now being used in at least two interior communities in B.C. Instead of producing models of one of their local officers to deter speeding on their own streets, those RCMP detachments wanted his.

After all, Ericson is the largest cop in Coquitlam — perfect for catching a driver's attention ... or hiding behind with a radar gun.

  • WATCH: Briar Stewart's feature on the "Constable Scarecrow" experiment and the data police are gathering from it, tonight on The National on CBC Television and streamed online

A few words on ... 

Anti-social media.

Quote of the moment

"From this moment despair ends and tactics begin."

- The message from a new piece of Extinction Rebellion-themed street art, believed to be the work of guerilla artist Bansky, that popped up overnight at the epicentre of the anti-climate change protests in London.

Graffiti believed to have been created by street artist Banksy is seen at the site where hundreds of Extinction Rebellion climate protesters camped recently, at Marble Arch in London. (Peter Nicholls/Reuters)

What The National is reading

  • Evacuations continue in Western Quebec as dam threatens to fail (CBC)
  • Flooding feared as second cyclone batters Mozambique (BBC)
  • Sri Lankans urged to avoid mosques, churches amid fears of more attacks (CBC)
  • Hungary denying food to asylum seekers, says human rights group (Guardian)
  • U.S. opens criminal probe into Ford emissions certifications (Reuters)
  • Her "Prince Charming" turned out to be a crazed hit-man on the run (NYTimes)
  • 1,500 years ago someone ate a venomous snake whole. Why? (National Geographic)
  • Police probe theft of 18 colonoscopes (Fox News)

Today in history

April 26, 2004: Choose Liberals, says Joe Clark

Joe Clark was almost done with parliament, but not politics. The party he once led — the Progressive Conservatives — no longer existed, having been dissolved in the merger with the Canadian Alliance to form the new Conservative Party. But still sitting as a PC in the House, Clark lobbed a few grenades in the run-up to a federal election. Stephen Harper was "dangerous," he warned voters, a George W. Bush in the making. And he counselled Tories to hold their noses and vote for the "lesser of two evils," Paul Martin's Liberals. The electorate didn't listen.

Choose Liberals, says Joe Clark

18 years ago
Duration 2:46
In the 2004 election, Joe Clark says Conservative Leader Stephen Harper is a dangerous choice for voters.

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Jonathon Gatehouse

CBC Investigative Journalist

Jonathon Gatehouse has covered news and politics at home and abroad, reporting from dozens of countries. He has also written extensively about sports, covering seven Olympic Games and authoring a best-selling book on the business of pro-hockey. He works for the national investigative unit in Toronto.