Why young people don’t run for office — and the people trying to change that

With 25% of Congress over the age of 70, younger Americans tend to lack representation in U.S. politics.

Rob Donovic on Detroit Today | March 2, 2023

Rob Donovic speaking with Stephen Henderson on Detroit Today at the WDET studios, March 2, 2023

U.S. politics have been called a “gerontocracy” by some. What that means is people in office today are old — older, in fact, than the average American.

Consider recent presidents and candidates — like Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. The House and Senate disproportionately represent older Americans, as about 25% of Congress is over 70 years of age.

Currently, there are hot debates within Democratic circles about whether President Joe Biden — despite recruiting much younger cabinet members than himself — should run for a second term because he’s 80 years old.

“Our Congress currently is the third-oldest in history. The average age in the Senate is 64, which actually makes it the second-oldest Senate on record.” — Sara Hadad, Run for Something organizer

Listen: Why two young Michigan representatives ran for office.


Rob Donovic is a 31-year-old Republican Livonia city councilman. He says the time commitment is a barrier for young people to get involved in politics.

“There’s an event every single day of the week, there’s a council meeting multiple times a week. That’s time away from family, that’s time away from career development,” says Donovic.

Charlie Cavell is a 32-year-old Democratic Oakland County Commissioner for areas including Berkley, Birmingham, Ferndale, Huntington Woods, Pleasant Ridge and Royal Oak. He says he’s learned from older representatives what it means to listen to and display compassion for others.

“To learn what it really means to listen, what it really means to not just wait for your turn to talk and try to meet people where they are — no matter what we get done as a county commission, that’s one of the biggest personal things I’ve been able to walk away with,” says Cavell.

Sara Hadad is the chief campaign officer for Run for Something, a nonprofit that recruits and trains young people with progressive leanings to run for office. She says politicians are disproportionately older than the public they represent.

“Our Congress currently is the third-oldest in history. The average age in the Senate is 64, which actually makes it the second-oldest Senate on record,” says Hadad.

“30 out of 50 of our U.S. governors are 60 and older,” she continues. “The average age of the U.S. mayor of a major city is 58. Meanwhile, the median American is 38 years old.”

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    Dynamic and diverse voices. News, politics, community and the issues that define our region. Hosted by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Stephen Henderson, Detroit Today brings you fresh and perceptive views weekdays at 9 am and 7 pm.
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    Sam Corey is a producer for Detroit Today on 101.9 WDET, which includes finding and preparing interesting stories for radio. He enjoys salsa dancing — and actual salsa.