Do Voters Care about the Age of their Elected Representatives?

Abstract

On average, members of Congress are significantly older than the constituents they represent, while young people remain under-represented in elected office. Is this because people prefer older politicians and fail to see young people as viable candidates? Drawing on survey and experimental evidence, we explore how the age of a politician affects both candidate evaluations and incumbent approval. We find that people tend to see younger candidates as less experienced, less qualified, and less conservative than older candidates. However, we find few differences in people’s willingness to support a younger candidate than an older candidate. In fact, when looking at patterns of approval in Congress, people report more negative ratings of older members of Congress rather than younger ones. The over-representation of older voices in Washington likely reflects structural factors like incumbency that favor the success of older politicians, rather than the demands of the electorate.

Publication
Political Behavior