Popular Vote 2012: Millennials Remain Underrepresented in Congress

President Obama was ushered back into office using a coalition of young, people, single women, minorities, and members of the LGBTQ community. It is the same coalition that won him the landmark election in 2008. In its post-election analysis, the Republican Party has acknowledged that this coalition is a key representative of the country that they have neglected in the past, but plan to address in the future. But although this coalition showed up at the polls via an extensive and sophisticated communication strategy that relied heavily on technology and social media, they didn’t change the face of Congress. In order to make this country work for everyone, everyone needs to be fully represented in Congress.

Recent election results force us to ask if this government equipped to serve a majority minority electorate. Are there efforts afoot in the various demographics to bring a younger, more diverse population to Congress? A more important question may be, is the country prepared to allow a multicultural Congress to make economic decisions that affect the majority population?  Furthermore, are the titans of industry prepared to negotiate with people (e.g. millennials) who have just started building their resumes and 401Ks and may still live in their parent’s basement as they pay off their student loans?

Although America is growing more diverse, (according to Ronald Brownstein of The National Journal, “40% of Millennials are non-white and number rises in the generation born after them”) Congress is still decidedly homogeneous, dominated by white men. Matthew Segal, who is the co-founder of OurTime.org, a nonpartisan advocacy organization for young Americans, notes “70% of the House of Representatives and 73% of the Senate consist of white men."

But not only is Congress dominated by white men, it is dominated by middle-aged and senior white men. Segal points out “the average age of the newly elected 113th Congress is 58 for the House and 61 for the Senate.” Even more eye-opening, Segal states, the Senate has “zero African-American members of the Senate, compared to their 12.3% share of the general population, and only four Latinos, who represent 16.7% of the population.” And as far as women, the Senate will contain only 20 women (20% of the group) while women represent the majority of the population.

According to the 2010 U.S. Census, the median age of the population is 37.8 years old, closer to the millennial group than the average age of Congressional members. 34% of the country is between the ages of 15 and 39, while only 12% is between the ages of 55 to 64. In other words, Congress is anything but representative of the people.

The electoral demographics of the country also prove that America is not prepared or likely to turn the government over to a multicultural coalition or a millennial-based legislature. The majority of the election districts in America are red counties, i.e. they skew Republican and Republicans districts for the most part only elect white men to Congress. 44% of the Democratic caucus comes from the multicultural coalition, while the Republican caucus is 87% white male. Republicans hold a significant majority of 42 seats in the House of Representatives.

Organizations like Our Time.org and Emily’s List are working towards making Congress more representative. Our Time.org says their mission is to “combine the voting and purchasing power of young Americans so that politicians and businesses represent our needs better.” Emily’s List is a pro-choice political organization that “helps women develop political skills and cultivate resources so that they can bring more women into politics and elected office.” 

Wisdom is the acquisition of knowledge over time, and experience comes from doing. The group of people that make up the new coalition may not possess either the experience or the wisdom to manage the complexities of government. They may bring a fresh view and a new approach to problem-solving, but it is going to be an uphill climb to get the country to go and follow this group. Consider that black and brown people have been effectively locked out of boardrooms and the executive suite where business dealings are done for most of their time in America, so they may not have gathered the experience to make the business tycoons comfortable.   

Millennials haven’t been around long enough to gain the experience necessary to make corporations comfortable turning over the control of regulating commerce. They don’t have the network of contacts required to make things happen in Washington, like entitlement and tax reform. This is not to say that the new coalition is not smart enough. Jesus was a millennial and so was Dr. King when he became a pastor in Montgomery, Alabama. Joan of Arc was 19 when she died. The venerable congressman from Georgia, the honorable John Lewis, started his political career at a young age as one of the leaders of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee.

Millennials certainly have the chops to roll up their sleeves and tackle complex problems like tax reform, and the multi-cultural coalition is the group most impacted by social legislation so they would have a vested interest in getting it right. But quite frankly, there is a large group of Americans that would neither be comfortable or willing to allow this group to decide America’s future. And the current compositioin of the 113th Congress supports this assumption.