When Nancy Pelosi announced last week that she would seek re-election to the House of Representatives, the news raised some eyebrows.

While some Democrats are delighted at the prospect of working with a seasoned politician and a powerful fundraiser for two more years, many other political observers are less enthusiastic.

That’s largely because Pelosi, now speaker emeritus, will be 84 years old at the next U.S. election, and her decision comes at a time when the aging of candidates has become a major issue in U.S. politics.

Even in a world where most legislators are much older than the population at large, the United States is an outlier.

Compared with other countries, the United States is particularly dominated by older elected officials; one in five members of Congress is over 70 years old, making it one of the oldest professions in the country.

The trend has prompted calls for maximum term limits for those over 75, mandatory retirement and even mandatory mental competency tests. Last week, Republican Rep. John James introduced legislation that would bar people who turn 75 during their term from running for president, vice president and vice president. – President or member of Congress.

“Change (of leaders) is a good thing for democracies as a whole,” said Daniel Stockemer, a political studies professor at the University of Ottawa who has studied age representation around the world, including in the United States.

He argued that this did not mean that older members had to be excluded, but that space should be made for new entrants rather than having “the same people running the show”.

unrepresentative democracy

The response to Pelosi’s statement is the latest flashpoint in the larger debate about America’s growing gerontocracy.

The announcement by a congressman first elected in 1987 comes after concerns were raised about the health of elderly senators, including Republican Mitch McConnell, 81, and California Sen. Congresswoman Dianne Feinstein.

McConnell, who is in his octogenarians, froze twice recently during interviews with reporters, prompting him to consult with congressional doctors and the senator’s “neurology team.”

Feinstein, the chamber’s oldest member, took an extended leave of absence this year due to shingles. As a result, Democrats, who hold a slim majority in the Senate, have struggled to advance appointments and legislation. Although Feinstein is set to resign in 2024, she has resisted calls to retire early due to long-standing concerns about her memory.

Concerns about his health are also plaguing Joe Biden, the oldest president in U.S. history, who, at 80, is running for re-election in what is likely to be a rematch with 77-year-old Republican front-runner Donald Trump. Former presidential candidate Mitt urged Romney, 76, of the pair to “step aside” to make way for the next generation.

August, one polling Three-quarters of the public believe Biden is too old to be re-elected as president, including more than two-thirds of Democrats, according to a survey by The Associated Press and NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

Yet uneasiness about gerontology in America is two-fold: While there are concerns about physical health and mental capacity, there are other consequences of a political class dominated by older people.

Social scientists believe that, similar to other minority groups, serious underrepresentation of young people may mean that policymakers do not adequately consider their interests, which may lead to political apathy among young people.

Stockmer said the legislature should be “somewhat similar to the people in order to make decisions similar to what the entire population wants.”

In the United States, however, the median age in the Senate and House of Representatives has generally increased since the early 2000s. This contrasts with Germany, where the median age in the Bundestag has been falling since 2013, but trends in the lower houses of the British and French parliaments have remained more or less stable over the past few years, according to data collected by Bundestag researchers . University of Ottawa.

Members of the U.S. House of Representatives are also older than those in other G8 countries, with a median age of 58. In the Senate, that number jumps to 65, meaning half of the senators are at or above the age typically associated with retirement. Given that these ages are calculated relative to the beginning of the congressional session, incumbents will be older at the end of their term.

Since only about 7% of members of Congress are under the age of 40, this may not bode well for representation and the passage of laws on issues that young Americans care about, such as increasing climate action.

Jon Fiva, a professor at the Norwegian Business School who has studied how age, gender, class background and urban-rural representation in the Norwegian parliament affects policy discussions, said the behavior of elected officials in legislative debates is shaped by their age. There are differences, “presumably the same is true when implementing policies.”

war of years

Age is becoming the new political fault line, sometimes even overriding party loyalty.

Simply being a Democrat or a Republican does not determine one’s views. “Whether it’s a young or old Democrat or a young or old Republican, this matters,” Fewa said.

For example, a 2021 Survey The Pew Research Center found that Generation Z adults (those born after 1996) are more interested in fighting climate change than older generations. Even among Republicans, younger people are less willing to support greater use of fossil fuels, with 44% of Gen Z saying they support more fracking, compared with 74% of baby boomers and older Republicans.

other polling Gen Z Republicans were found to disagree with older Republicans on other issues as well, such as acknowledging racial injustice and favoring more government involvement in solving problems rather than leaving them to businesses and individuals.

While the age gap between U.S. lawmakers and the general public is particularly stark, the underrepresentation of youth in policymaking is a worldwide problem.

According to the latest data from the Inter-Parliamentary Union, an international organization of national parliaments, only 2.8% of parliamentarians worldwide are under the age of 30. By comparison, approximately 18% of the world’s population is between the ages of 18 and 29.

Many challenges prevent young would-be legislators from joining: lack of political connections and support, limited fundraising powers, and legal minimum age restrictions. To help young people overcome these barriers, groups like Run for Something have emerged recently, offering training, mentoring and funding.

Juan Ramiro Sarmiento, 29, is a spokesman for Run For Something, a group that helps progressive candidates under 40 run in state and local elections. “So it’s not surprising that the resulting public policy is favorable to them.”

That means older politicians won’t pass laws that would prevent them from being re-elected, he said. Instead, a “sufficient number” of young politicians are needed to bring about change.

Brandon Sakbun, 27, is running for mayor of Terre Haute, Indiana, after winning the Democratic nomination earlier this year. He is optimistic that more voters will begin to embrace younger candidates as they look outside the status quo for new ideas and solutions.

“We’re facing a different set of challenges that people have never faced (before),” he said, adding that people on both sides of the aisle could support the idea of ​​”passing the baton to a new generation.”

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