The average age in the current US Congress is 59, the oldest in history. But Gen Zers, the eldest of whom is 25, are about to change that.
“I did not run to be the first Gen Z member of Congress. I ran to serve my community,” says Maxwell Alejandro Frost, 25, Democratic candidate for Florida’s 10th congressional district.
“But being the first member of Gen Z is an important part of the story. And I think it really shows that our country will hopefully go in a direction where we want our representative bodies to be truly representative of the country. , yes, in terms of race, but also age and experience,” he says.
Frost, who is running in a solidly Democratic district, is favorite to win in November.
“I’ve been an organizer for 10 years, and I come from the generation that’s been in more school shooting drills than fire drills,” Frost says. “And that’s really the perspective that I bring to Congress.” It is the urgency around these questions.
In New Hampshire, 25-year-old Karoline Leavitt is heading into the general election. The former Trump White House staffer, who won the Republican nomination for New Hampshire’s 1st congressional district, hopes to flip the seat currently held by Democrat Chris Pappas.
If she wins in November, Leavitt, an anti-abortion conservative who said the 2020 election was stolen from former President Donald Trump, would become the youngest elected congresswoman.
“I entered this race with no name recognition, no money, but [with] a passion and a will to fight for my home state of New Hampshire against the socialist Democrats who are destroying our country,” Leavitt said after winning the Sept. 13 Republican primary. “The Washington establishment and the Democrats certainly shut us out. They said I was too young, [that] we could never raise the money to compete.
Once they’re in positions of power, Gen Z — people born between 1997 and 2012 — could prove to be a moderating force in American politics, says Samuel Abrams, senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
“We know from the survey data that most Gen Zers are actually quite comfortable with social media, having conflicting viewpoints and trying to find a compromise or a way to resolve issues. problems,” says Abrams, who is also political. professor at Sarah Lawrence College in New York.
“We’re seeing a fair number of pretty extreme young people running around, which worries me a bit, but in theory… if there really is commitment, I would expect to finally see a moderating force in the parties.”
The Democratic leadership is currently dominated by septuagenarians and octogenarians. Speaker Joe Biden is 79, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is 82 and Steny Hoyer, the House Majority Leader, is 83.
“I think congressional Democrats feel that the old guard is old and has been around for a long time and there is a need for fresh blood,” says Jennifer Victor, associate professor of political science at the George Mason University in Virginia. “But then, at the end of the day, and you actually vote on who the leadership is, they go right back to old ways.”
Yet younger members of Congress, like New York Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, are finding other ways to stand out.
“When you look at members like Ocasio Cortez, they may not be leaders, but they are in leadership roles in many ways in terms of representing the party, being on the national stage and giving to the young voters someone to look up to to identify with the party,” says Tom Bonier, Democratic strategist and CEO of TargetSmart, a data and polling company.
Republicans have been quicker to embrace younger leaders. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is 57, while Elise Stefanik, the third House Republican, is 38. Republican Paul Ryan was 45 when he was sworn in as Speaker of the House in 2015.
“I think the Republican Party, whether young or old, tends to have much more similar principles,” Abrams said. “They created a phenomenal, what I would call [a] deep bench of young people. … The Republican Party, or allied interests, over the past decade or so have worked very hard to create organizations that actually cultivate this talent.
The general lack of youth representation in Congress could be a reason young voters did not show up in force in the last midterm elections in 2018.
“The 18-29 year olds represent 20% of the population as a whole, but they only represent 11% of the electorate. For example, the population over 65 represented 31% of the electorate while it represented only 13% of the population,” explains Victor. “This distribution…is not proportional to the population as a whole, and therefore creates real inequalities in representation and policy-making.”
There are a number of reasons young people don’t vote, Victor says, including because they tend to be more transitional, are often in college, aren’t as aware of taxes and that they don’t have much interaction with the government – which makes elections feel less relevant to them.
But having candidates closer in age and experience, like Frost and Leavitt, could have an impact.
“They will have the potential to make this generation feel more connected to the process,” says Bonier, “and see voting or running for office as a way to actually engage with things that matter to them. at this point, I don’t think that’s the case for the most part.
One of the challenges Gen Z faces is finding their voice in a rapidly changing environment.
“It’s not entirely clear if Gen Z is going to develop a political voice here. I think it wants to. But I think one of the things to note is because the parties are weaker, because social media has aired things, fundraising has changed, the way politics is done has changed,” Abrams says. “But the one thing I would say for sure is that with social media, the person can rise quickly.”
Meanwhile, Frost, who says he drove for ride-sharing company Uber to make ends meet while running for Congress, would like to see more global representation in the House of Representatives.
“I will do everything to get other people elected,” he said. “Yes, young people, but also just people of all ages who come from working class backgrounds. I think it’s important that we have a Congress that looks like the country.
Many American Founding Fathers were the same age as Generation Z when the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776.
James Monroe, who later became president, was 18, while another future president, James Madison, was 25. Alexander Hamilton was 21 and a future vice president. [and eventual Hamilton killer] Aaron Burr was 20 years old.
All of this means that if Frost and Leavitt make it to Congress, they will be following a tradition of American leadership as old as the nation itself.