For a representative democracy to function, it is essential that government reflects its people—whether by race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, experience, age, or background. Diversity in leadership roles results in a more effective and fair government. By this measure, our democracy is dramatically failing younger Americans. Approximately 62 million Millennials were of voting age during the 2016 general election, according to Pew Research Center. In 2018, young voters, namely Millennials and Generation Z, are set to make up 34 percent of the eligible voting population. This gives young voters a larger share of the potential electorate than any other single generation. Yet, despite making up the largest potential voting bloc in the country today, young people are severely underrepresented at both the state and federal level.
This representation gap impacts young people, and the issues they care about, directly. When elected officials aren’t representative of their constituents, this can lead to policies that are not responsive to the needs of the governed. At the federal level, only one in ten members of Congress are paying off student loans, while four in ten young people are paying student loans. Young people today are more likely to be killed with a gun than die in a car accident, yet the 115th Congress has yet to vote on a single bill to strengthen gun laws. Americans overwhelmingly favor legalizing marijuana with 61 percent of support, but members of Congress have consistently voted to oppose its legalization. When such a gap exists between the lived experiences of a large portion of the electorate and the lived experiences of legislators, it should come as no surprise that issues largely affecting younger Americans are often not addressed.
These disparities in representation also exist at the state level. Our analysis found that despite young voters making up 34 percent of the U.S. electorate, only six percent of state legislators are 35 or younger. In other words, young people are facing a representation gap of 28 percent in state legislatures. To put this into perspective, currently, only about one in every 16 state legislators is 35 years old or younger. To make the composition of these bodies proportional to the eligible voting population, lawmakers 35 and under would have to compose one out of every three state legislators. Nationwide, to fill the existing representation gap, the country would need 2,500 state legislators, of the 7,548 that exist, to be 35 or under.
This report explores the disparities in youth representation in state legislatures, the implications for diversity, and how proper representation translates to power.
Read the full report for our complete analysis and conclusions.