Expert warns on ageing issues ahead of Joe Biden and Donald Trump debate

Ahead of the upcoming presidential debate between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump, a leading expert on aging issued a warning about viewers’ “confirmation bias.”

Biden and Trump will face off in their first debate since 2020 in Atlanta, Georgia, on Thursday. The debate will be moderated by CNN, and will feature each candidate giving an opportunity to voice their opinions on key issues like the economy, reproductive rights, and foreign policy.

But political experts believe the issue of age will be up for discussion during the debate, as both Biden and Trump have faced concerns from some voters about their ages. A February poll from ABC News and Ipsos found that 59 percent of voters believe both Biden, 81, and Trump, 78, are “too old” to be president, though medical experts have said both candidates are fit to serve.

The debate will give Biden and Trump an opportunity to calm concerns about their age in front of millions of people as the contest tightens, according to recent polls.

Former President Donald Trump delivers a speech in Washington, DC, on January 31, 2024. President Joe Biden speaks at a rally in Manassas, Virginia, on January 23, 2024. An expert on aging warned about “confirmation bias”…

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images; Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

S.J. Olshansky, professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of Illinois, Chicago, and a research associate at the university’s Center on Aging, explained Newsweek Many viewers may experience “confirmation bias” when watching debates.

He said, “People who support former President Trump’s statements will perceive him as a person who is not mentally fit to be president, regardless of what he said and how he said it. The same will be true among supporters of former President Trump who will watch President Biden during the debate.”

He said the general public would not be able to “reliably assess” any candidate’s mental state based on the debate, and that the only person capable of making a medical assessment was their doctor.

“Viewers shouldn’t expect perfection from any candidate, because it’s normal for anyone to make mistakes during a debate. Expecting any candidate to perform perfect in a debate is “that’s when confirmation bias comes into play,” says Olshansky.

He said, “Just imagine how much pressure those two must feel during that debate. I speak in public often, and those of us who speak for a living, we all make mistakes. We forget names, get dates wrong, sometimes use the wrong words – it’s all part of public speaking.”

Newsweek Polygon contacted the Biden and Trump campaigns for comment via email.

Ahead of Thursday, Biden has spent nearly a week preparing for the debate at Camp David as he hopes to use the debate to win over undecided independent voters who could turn the race in his favor in key swing states. Meanwhile, Trump has spent part of the week on the campaign trail, holding a rally in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, one of the states closely divided between Democrats and Republicans.

The debate comes at a time when Biden has improved his position in recent polls. FiveThirtyEight’s polling aggregate on Wednesday showed a neck-and-neck gap between the two candidates, with Biden leading by 0.1 percentage points. A month ago on May 26, Trump had a lead of 1.5 percentage points.