Millennials won’t gain a majority in Congress until 2035.
That’s the key finding of a new report just released by my firm First Person Politics on why Millennials won’t even begin to fix the dysfunction in Washington until the late 2020s. In the meantime, Baby Boomers will rise to power in the Senate, and Gen Xers will gain control of the House before the end of the decade, placing the responsibilities of national leadership squarely on the shoulders of these two generations for the foreseeable future.
Our report finds that generations rise to power in Congress on a predictable timetable, especially in the House. Each generation enters the House for the first time when their eldest members turn 30, becomes the largest minority at age 44, and wins their first majority around age 53 (within a two-year margin of error). Here’s what this means in practice.
When a generation first enters Congress, their power is limited and their influence purely symbolic. Think Millennials today or Gen Xers in the 1990s: present, but without the numbers or seniority to wield real power.
When a generation becomes the largest minority, their “young guns” and “rising stars” begin to influence Congressional politics. We’re seeing this play out in Congress today with Gen X leaders like Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.), Sens. Rand Paul (Ky.) and Ted Cruz (Texas) on the right, and leaders like Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.), Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.) and Cory Booker (N.J.) on the left.
It’s not until a generation wins their first majority that their political preferences become decisive. The best example is the Baby Boomer takeover of the House in 1995, which inaugurated our modern era of hyper-partisanship, ideological polarization and political brinkmanship. Another example: the Silent Generation’s takeover of the House in 1977, which permanently shifted the balance of power in Washington against Big Labor and in favor of Big Business.
Meanwhile, if you’re a political consultant looking to take your business to the next level, Gen X is where most of your client growth will be. Here are a few observations about this rising crop of leaders to help you get a grip on their “Just Do It” mindset.
First, polls consistently show that Gen X is split between an older cohort born in the 1960s that is radically conservative and a younger cohort born in the 1970s that is quite progressive, though not as optimistically liberal as Millennials. As both parties search for new leaders, the GOP’s greatest champions are likely to come from the older cohort, while the Democratic Party’s heroes will probably come from the younger cohort.
Second, many Gen Xers adopt a cynically libertarian posture, even if they aren’t ideological libertarians. This generation is filled with “socially liberal, fiscally conservative” types, who take a hands-off approach to most issues. As latchkey kids, many Gen Xers grew up with weak parental supervision, so they are instinctually distrustful of authorities attempting to impose their will from above.
Third, Gen Xers are used to playing by their own rules. These rebels without a cause are the misfits of the generational cycle. Not only can this make them difficult to manage and organize, it also means the number and scope of political and personal scandals could skyrocket in the years ahead as this generation’s leaders come under greater scrutiny. When you take on Gen-X clients, make sure you vet them thoroughly – and make sure you have a good crisis management specialist on speed dial.
David Rosen is the founder of First Person Politics, where he brings clients in politics, advocacy, and consulting the most cutting edge ideas and tools from political psychology. Follow the firm on Facebook and Twitter.