It was a stunning comment. Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor and U.N. ambassador running to be President, actually envisioned the death of the current officeholder for personal gain. Last week, she told Fox News this:
I think that we can all be very clear and say with a matter of fact that if you vote for Joe Biden you really are counting on a President [Kamala] Harris, because the idea that he would make it until 86 years old is not something that I think is likely.
From the New to Las Vegas world headquarters, in the land of odds and bookmakers, I beg to disagree on that probability–but, unlike Haley, with no self-interest and by using hard statistical data. According to standard life expectancy tables used by actuaries, the 80-year-old Biden indeed is likely to make it to age 86. Believe it or not–and this may be the real stunner–he is more likely to do so than the 51-year-old Haley, or for that matter the soon-to-turn-77 Donald J. Trump.
I’m relying on Social Security’s latest Actuarial Life Table, which was used to to make funding projections in the 2023 Social Security trustees report. You can see the table by clicking here. There are other life expectancy tables out there that seem to be largely in accord. Of course, all are simply predictions and don’t take into account a person’s specific situation.
The Social Security table says that the life expectancy of an 80-year-old male–Biden was born November 20, 1942–is another 7.79 years. So using rough calculations that projects his life span to 88.21 years (80 years plus 7.79 years plus the five months since he turned 80). By mathematical definition, he thus is more likely statistically than not to make it to 86 (if reelected in 2024, Biden would be age 86 years 2 months old at the end of his second term on January 20, 2029).
Haley obviously thinks her relative youth is a political plus for her, although it certainly hasn’t reflected itself yet in the latest polling. But since she is so fixated on Biden not making it to 86, how about her own chances? As it turns out, not as good, despite the well-known fact that females have longer life expectancies than males. According to the Social Security table, the life expectancy of a 51-year-old woman–Haley was born January 20, 1972–is another 31.35 years. For her that would be to age 82.6 years (51 years plus 31.35 years plus the 3 months since she turned 51), more than five years less than Biden’s life expectancy. Again by mathematical definition, that means she is less likely to hit age 86 than Biden.
There are several reasons for this seeming incongruity. But by far the biggest is this: Biden is already 80 and still kicking. Haley has 29 more years to go just to reach that mark. That’s a long period of time during which any number of fatal things could happen to her: killer disease, deadly accident, mass shooting victim. This is all factored into life expectancy estimates.
Now, life expectancy is not the same as ability to do a job, and one’s final years in older age can be difficult. We also have seen what a second presidential term can do to younger second-term Presidents like Woodrow Wilson (who had a stroke in 1919 at age 62 that was hushed up) and Ronald Reagan, before Biden the oldest President, who some scholars think showed signs of cognitive decline in his mid-70s while in office. There’s also Franklin Delano Roosevelt, dealing with World War II and afflicted with polio, who was clearly fading as he ran for his fourth term in 1944. He died in 1945 less than three months after taking the oath of office again at the age of 63.
I know very little about the personal and ancestral family health histories of Biden or Haley, which can play a role in life expectancy. But I do know that as President Biden gets maybe the world’s best health care anchored by Walter Read National Military Health Center in suburban Washington, D.C. That’s the place that possibly saved the life of Trump when as President he caught a severe case of COVID-19 in the closing weeks of the 2020 election campaign. The pandemic illness has taken the lives of more than 1 million of his fellow Americans, almost all of whom couldn’t get treatment at Walter Reed. Haley in the short run would have to go elsewhere, too.
Still, as Haley showed, the life expectancy calculation game is intriguing to play. Trump was born June 14, 1946, meaning he turns 77 next month. I’ll give him the month. The actuarial table says the life expectancy of a 77-year-old male is 85.32 years. That’s nearly three years less than Biden and nearly three years more than Haley!
Or Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a likely Republican candidate, born September 14, 1978. The life expectancy of a 44-year-old male, adding the seven months since the last birthday, is 78.04 years–a full decade less than Biden and eight years less than Trump. Or Robert F. Kennedy Jr., born January 17, 1954, who just declared as a Democratic candidate. The life expectancy of a 69-year-old male three months past his birthday is 83.49 years–still nearly five years less than Biden.
Haley has been beating this they’re-too-damn-old drum for awhile. In February she called for “mandatory mental competency tests for politicians over 75 years old.” That’s a cut-off that would just happen to exclude her from testing but include Biden and even Trump, whom she is challenging for the GOP nomination.
Trump is sort of on record as favoring testing after repeatedly bragging about supposedly passing–in 2018 at age 71–a simple oral test designed to screen for early dementia. But probably answering for Biden, his wife, Jill Biden, told an interviewer, “We would never even discuss something like that.”
Haley likely got a bit of an age-related boost after CNN last week fired its longtime liberal host Don Lemon following his on-air comments in February that her age for a woman made her “not in her prime, sorry.” At a campaign rally three days later in New Hampshire, Haley was asked about the departure of the 57-year-old Lemon. She chortled, “All I’ll say is, Who’s in their prime now?”
A fair response, I would say. But in my view any benefit was squandered by her talking so eagerly about Biden’s death. Predicting Biden’s untimely demise when the data doesn’t even support it? That’s a good point to start a discussion at some future time about bad karma.