Why Don’t Millenials Want to Run for Office?

We always complain that Congress is old, white and male, and doesn’t represent the actual demographics of constituents. Unfortunately, that may not change anytime soon, as a new generation of potential politicians admit they really have no desire to run for office at all.

Shauna Shames, an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Rutgers University-Camden, writes in the Washington Post about a new study that shows millennials have no interest in campaigning for a legislative job. “There are many reasons for the sorry state of national politics. My research suggests one important reason: the reluctance of good candidates to run for office, particularly young people,” she writes, adding, “Between 2011 and 2014, I surveyed over 750 young people well-positioned to run for office – those studying law and public policy at the graduate level in the Boston area. The views of one such person, whom I’ll call Charlotte, are illustrative. She said, ‘I’d hate [running].’  She elaborated: I just feel I can effect a lot more change and do good work from the outside and find it much more satisfying.’”

So why don’t young people want to run for office? Shames has a number of ideas, ranging from the financial costs of campaigning, the personal costs surrounding loss of privacy, and the belief that being a politician is no longer synonymous with being able to create change politically.

It’s no wonder that all of these beliefs dominate millennial culture. As a generation that grew up with available internet, 24 hour news channels and constant social networking, the same tools that originally made it easier for a candidate to reach voters now leaves them constantly exposed. Today is an age where Facebook photos end a race, a bad moment caught on YouTube could dominate a news cycle, and a background search no longer belongs to those with legal file access but anyone who uses Google.

This is also a generation that has the highest level of college debt, the least access to living wage jobs, and an inability to buy homes or start families because of their debt-to-earnings ratio. Meanwhile, campaigns themselves are growing exponentially more expensive, and more candidates than ever are self-funding to cover costs.

For nearly all of their adulthood, millennials have lived in an era where political rancor is at its worst, with the impeachment hearings of President Bill Clinton to the rise of the Tea Party and the complete congressional obstructionism that came along with that movement. Is it any wonder that when asked how they most believe they can affect change in the country, few see “running for office” as an answer?

Can that issue be addressed, though? Sadly, not unless we push for real campaign reform. New media and social media are always going to be an issue in campaigns, so it’s the financial factor that is left as the one component that can be addressed. Capping campaign spending limits, not just the amount that donors can contribute, is one way to finally bring running for office away from the elite and financially secure, and make it something that not only anyone can participate in, but something that doesn’t frighten off candidates who fear the financial pitfalls of a campaign. Limits on outside financing from special interest groups would also even the playing field by not ramping up what is in essence in-kind candidate donations.

Limiting special interest group participation also limits the power these entities have in Congress when their backed candidates are elected, which would curb rancor within D.C.. With an obligation to voters — not financial supporters — more politicians will have to rely on what they accomplish in office, not just what they manage to block.

What Shames has discovered about millennials’ lack of interest in political careers is not surprising, but it is disappointing. If we don’t address it, it’s going to be another few, long decades of nothing but rich, old lawmakers continuing to accomplish nothing, and as a country no one benefits from that.

Photo credit: Thinkstock


Jim Ven
Jim Ven3 years ago

thanks for the article.

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus4 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Valen Smith
Valen Smith4 years ago

If the millennials don't want to run for office, that just means that others will - most likely immigrants and the disaffected. Once they start shifting things their way, the millennials will feel that gov't doesn't represent them, and will vow to get into office to change things and make put the constant need to find direct UK lenders online here to minimum. This is the way the legislative process works. Representative government only works as well as the people running it.

Rita B.
Rita B4 years ago

Until we have publicly financed elections, it will be extremely difficult for anyone to run for office who is not already very rich or on the take from corporations.

Another, problem is our two party system which does not encourage diversity or thinking outside the box. Most other countries have many more than two political parties. I wish we had a strong progressive/ green party.

Though, it certainly is possible to run for local positions such as city council person without a huge investment. I have noticed that sometimes these local positions go uncontested.

Corey Brideau
Corey Brideau4 years ago

they are not to young they along with myself have zero faith in government because of the corruption it is an evil thing that must be fought and changed that is the common knowledge now

Teresa W.
Teresa W4 years ago

They are too young, I suppose.

Deborah W.
Deborah W4 years ago


Magdalena J.
Past Member 4 years ago

Thank you!

john hall
john hall4 years ago

Let's see it takes a small fortune to run for any office and the systems a joke and so are the voters. You can have a person running that has good ideas,a good person and they get treated like crap because of voters and party politics thet get ate up and spit out. Why would anyone want there life turned upside down because they want to make a difference.

Nikki Davey
Nikki Davey4 years ago

Everyone now believes that most politicians are crooked. So why would any of us aspire to join their ranks?