Poll finds support for Dianne Feinstein drops when age is made salient

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A recent poll by the campus Institute of Governmental Studies has found that support for a potential re-election bid by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, dropped six percentage points among California voters when they were informed about her age.

Support dropped to a 50-50 split when the voters were reminded of Feinstein’s age. Though she has not formally announced her candidacy, Feinstein has hinted at her intention to run for re-election in the 2018 campaign cycle, when she will be 84.

The nonpartisan public opinion poll showed that approval ratings further dropped when voters were informed that Feinstein would be seeking her sixth term if she chooses to run in the 2018 election.

According to Berkeley IGS poll director Mark DiCamillo, age has not been a factor that the institute previously investigated in its polls. DiCamillo and his team decided to include questions about Feinstein’s age because it has been discussed in media.

Feinstein is the oldest member of the U.S. Senate and is the same age as Senators Chuck Grassley, R-IA, and Orrin Hatch, R-UT.

The average senator’s age in Congress is 61.8, decreasing from about 63 in the 2009-2010 Congress, according to a Congressional Research Service report. Average term lengths also dropped from 13.4 years to 10.1 years during the same time period.

“I don’t think age is a determining factor,” said campus geology major Behnaz Hosseini, adding that the most qualified person should get the job. “But playing the devil’s advocate, having people who are younger in politics is also important because perspectives are different.”

In the 2016 Senate elections, no senators failed to be re-nominated by their parties, and only one incumbent senator was defeated in the general election. Five former senators retired after an average of about 25 years in office, including Barbara Boxer, D-California.

Reactions on age diverged between Democrats and Republicans, the poll showed.

Seventy-three percent of Democratic voters polled who were not informed of Feinstein’s age supported her running for a sixth term in comparison to 52 percent of those who were informed of her age.

In contrast, the poll found that support for Feinstein’s potential re-election increased among Republicans from 12 to 20 percent when they were informed about her age. This result is marginal, according to DiCamillo, partially because the sample of Republicans polled was smaller in proportion to their representation statewide.

Pieter Sittler, internal vice president of the Berkeley College Republicans, said age is not an issue to him so long as public officials are competent. He added that former senator Strom Thurmond was in office until he was 100 years old and that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is close to Feinstein in age, at 84.

The poll also asked respondents their preference for the U.S. Senate should Feinstein not seek re-election. Of a list of 10 potential candidates, 65 percent of voter preferences were nearly evenly split between Gov. Jerry Brown, former Fresno mayor Ashley Swearengin, who was the only Republican candidate listed, and being undecided. Brown will be 80 during the next election cycle.

“If Brown were to run, I suspect, and I strongly believe, I would (include) the same question,” DiCamillo said.

Feinstein’s office declined to comment on the poll.

Pamela Larson covers city government. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @pamreporting.