Gen Z in Congress: A New Era, or More of the Same?
On November 8, 2022, 25 year old Maxwell Alejandro Frost (D-FL) became the first member of Generation Z to win a congressional campaign. Also noteworthy is 25 year old Karoline Leavitt (R-NH), who was the first Generation Z nominee for a congressional office from the Republican party. As both Democrats and Republicans move away from the center of the political spectrum, reaching agreements between the two parties seems to be increasing in difficulty. Although these two rising Gen-Z politicians are on opposite sides of the political spectrum, both politicians share a passion for their country and for providing a voice for the people they represent.
Maxwell Alejandro Frost was adopted at birth and raised in a Cuban American household with Spanish as his primary language. Early on in his life, he became interested in politics, organizing protests against gun violence at the age of fifteen in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting. He continued his political activism throughout his life by working for the ACLU, where he fought for abortion rights and led both the Florida ACLU’s fight to restore voting rights to Floridians convicted of previous felonies and a voter turnout program. Frost also helped fight for five billion dollars of funding for community-based violence prevention programs in President Biden’s budget plan. At night, he drives for Uber. His job at Uber both provides a source of income and helps him try to gain supporters. Frost told the Washington Post he may continue working for Uber even if he is elected, saying, “I think those experiences give me an insight that maybe, you know, some other folks have not had, especially White folks, you know, in Congress.”
Karoline Leavitt was born and raised in New Hampshire, in a blue collar, small-business owning family. She spent summers working at her family’s ice cream stand, and cites the experience as the source of her work ethic. After attending Saint Anselm’s College, she applied in 2018 to work at the White House under President Trump. Leavitt was accepted, and worked at the White House as both a Presidential Writer and an Assistant Press Secretary, where she worked closely with Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany. Even after President Trump left office, Leavitt continued fighting for her conservative beliefs. She worked on Capitol Hill as Communications Director for Congresswoman and House Republican Conference Chair, Elise Stefanik (R-NY). Leavitt’s win in the primaries came as a dark horse, especially as she was competing against an established Republican, Matt Mowers. After her win, Leavitt said in her victory speech, “The media, the Washington establishment and the Democrats certainly counted us out. They said I was too young, we could never raise the money to compete, and that we could never beat a former Republican nominee.”
Despite their participation in different political parties, the two candidates share a few key similarities; both share the values of family and faith, have spent significant periods of their lives working for their respective political parties, and are passionate about their beliefs. Their shared experience makes both candidates qualified for their potential Congressional positions, and will bring new energy and ideas to Congress if elected. Although the “Baby Boomer” generation still holds the majority of Congressional seats, they have been surpassed as the biggest age group by millennials. Millennials currently hold 31 seats in Congress, compared to the 230 seats held by Baby Boomer generation. Bringing Gen Z represenatives into Congress would expand the influence of younger generations in Congress, and give them a stronger voice. Young people that are elected to Congress now have the potential to be a voice for their generation for the future, helping to move out older, potentially outdated politicians.
The ideological differences between Frost and Leavitt cannot be overlooked considering their differing political perspectives and backgrounds. These differences are only exacerbated with the ideological standoff between the Democratic and Republican parties. An analysis from the Pew Research Center shows that the two parties are more polarized today than any other time in the past fifty years. While young people being elected to Congress has the potential for positive effects, it also has potentially disastrous ones as well. Leavitt and Frost are operating and running in the most polarized political environment in the last fifty years, and they will take that mindset with them. If each politician is elected to Congress this November, there is the potential that they will stay in Congress for years to come. Since 2002, when Republican Representative Morella was defeated in the reelection and Democratic Representative Gilman retired, there has been no overlap between the least liberal Democrats and least conservative Republicans in the House.
The threat of polarization has only been building since then, and the election of young people to Congress may only make the situation worse. Literature about political polarization reveals that social groups among Americans are becoming increasingly uniform, as people prefer to form relationships with those that share their political views. This homogeneity being formed among voting Americans makes it more difficult to be empathetic to differing opinions, and will only
be solidified in the polls if politicians that have equally rigid viewpoints are elected.
There is no easy solution to the issue of political polarization. Young people in Congress may help it, but also may make things worse. However, there are some actions that can be done to reduce polarization in local communities, both at BU or in communities across the country. The idea of the “contact hypothesis” is one possibility to reduce polarization; it states that getting to know someone with different views than your own can help to reduce prejudice. This hypothesis has played out the best in person, not on social media. But if you happen to brave social media… Rachel Kleinfeld of Carnagie’ recommends trying to make it a kinder, less intense place. She also recommends recognizing that disagreement occurs within parties. While elected officials have a huge impact on the political landscape, lots of Americans making little changes could make a big difference in the fight against polarization.