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US voters say age means more than sexual orientation

Reuters, NEW YORK

In a sign that a US presidential hopeful’s sexual orientation has diminished as a concern for voters, Americans are more likely to say they would reject a candidate older than 70 than a candidate who is gay, a Reuters/Ipsos poll showed on Monday.

The national opinion poll, conducted with the Williams Institute at University of California, Los Angeles ahead of the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising and the birth of the LGBT rights movement, highlighted a steady trend toward acceptance of gay politicians.

The survey also called attention to one of the challenges facing US President Donald Trump, who will be turning 73 next week, as he seeks re-election next year.

Democrats will select their nominee from a field that so far includes 24 candidates, and a record number of women and non-white candidates.

Among those running are two septuagenarians — former US vice president Joe Biden and US Senator Bernie Sanders — as well as Pete Buttigieg, the openly gay mayor of South Bend, Indiana.

A decade ago “it was controversial just to see a presidential candidate who’s supportive of gay rights,” said Andrew Flores, a government professor at American University in Washington. “Now there’s a gay candidate who’s actually running for the office. So there has been a vast change in what the country views as acceptable.”

Overall, the poll found that 48 percent of adults in the US said that they were “much” or “somewhat” less likely to support someone for the White House if the person was older than 70, while 34 percent were less likely to vote for someone who is gay.

Twelve percent said that they were more likely to vote for a gay candidate, compared with 11 percent who said they were more likely to support a candidate who is over 70.

The poll measured the public’s general acceptance of various demographics, rather than gauging support for individual presidential candidates.

“People might say in a poll that they want a younger candidate, but that may not be what will actually determine their vote,” said Kyle Kondik, a political analyst at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.

Acceptance of gay and lesbian politicians has grown over the past 40 years amid a worldwide movement for LGBT equality. Historians trace its genesis to the Stonewall Uprising in June 1969, when gay people protested police harassment at a gay bar in New York’s Greenwich Village.

Despite this trend, as of 2007, Americans were still more likely to want a septuagenarian in the White House than they were a gay or lesbian politician.

This year Reuters/Ipsos and other national polls have showed that public preferences have flipped as Americans become much more supportive of gay candidates.

Events underpinning the shift included the 2010 repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” rule that banned openly LGBT people from serving in the US military and the 2015 US Supreme Court decision that same-sex marriage is a right guaranteed by the US constitution.

Trump has also presented himself as an ally of the LGBT community.

Buttigieg might be part of the reason for the shift in acceptance, Flores said.

“It’s now a reality that there’s an out gay candidate, who’s a Democrat, who may become president,” he said. “You may see a greater level of legitimacy among Democratic voters because of that.”

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