Millennials comprise a large, diverse and important part of the U.S. electorate this year. But they are also an increasing portion of candidates for local and state elections.
According to the Millennial Action Project (MAP), an organization tracking young people running for office across the country, record numbers of people under 45 are running for office this year.
“It blew us away, because from 2018 to 2020, we've tracked to 266% increase... in the number of people who threw their hat in the ring,” Layla Zaidane, executive director and COO of MAP, told VOA.
“On Election Day, on the ballot, we'll have 259 total. Millennials just running for congressional seats,” she added.
With issues such as climate change and wage stagnation at the forefront of people’s minds, many millennial candidates say they want a hand in shaping policy that will affect their future.
“The reality is that the consequences and ramifications of the decisions that are being made will be felt by us,” David Kim, who is running as a Democrat for California’s 34th House seat, which includes Los Angeles, told VOA. “So, wouldn't it make sense for us to legislate for our future?”
The increase in millennials running for office spans almost equally across both parties. According to MAP, 40% of candidates under 45 running for the House of Representatives are Republicans.
But this generation is more likely than any other to identify as independent — or at least not fit neatly into the ideological box of either party.
“I'm not a huge fan of the two-party system,” said Luke Negron, a 27-year-old candidate in Pennsylvania’s 18th District, which includes Pittsburgh. “But my opponent is a Democrat, so I have to run as a Republican for a viable campaign.”
He added, “That doesn't mean that I think that all Republicans are good guys. And it certainly doesn't mean that I think that the only elitist sellouts are Democrats.”
In California, House seats have general or nonpartisan primaries, meaning two people of the same party can be the candidates on general Election Day.
Kim, 36, said part of what drove him to run was working on the campaign of Kenneth Mejia — a Green Party candidate for the same congressional district in 2018 who lost with just under 30% of the vote.
Though Kim’s ideology aligns with that of the Green Party candidate, he said he chose to run as a Democrat, noting “the distinction between corporately funded Democrats and people power Democrats.”
Zaidane thinks young people’s tendency to blur party lines is not only an advantage to their own campaigns but the future of policymaking.
“I think that represents a huge opportunity for this generation to exercise that ability to collaborate and innovate outside of traditional frameworks and actually solve problems,” she said.
Before serving in the U.S. Air Force, Negron balanced multiple service jobs, — “classic millennial stuff,” he told VOA.
Though technically on opposite sides of the aisle, both Negron and Kim talk about the same experience, and the same struggle — working multiple jobs to make ends meet.
“There's political grandstanding. There's moral power grabbing. And all of this really leads, ultimately, to the working class and the lower class being the ones who get hurt,” Negron said.
Zaidane said there are many policy issues, including the urgency of the COVID-19 pandemic, which have contributed to a growing number of younger candidates running for office.
The pandemic in particular has provided a unique opportunity to young candidates. In a time where large gatherings are banned for safety and people are confined to their homes, young candidates generally possess the unique advantage of knowing how to campaign online — specifically through social media.
“We have started to understand how our actions can now lead to change, and how we can leverage technology and leverage the power of social media to do that,” Zaidane said. She cited the 2018 March for Our Lives rally, which was organized by students following the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
“And of course, in a COVID era, where young people are running for office, that gives them a massive edge,” she added.
Kim, who has been endorsed by former Democratic presidential candidates Andrew Yang and Marianne Williamson, laughed heartily when he recounted his staff of two people when he filed to run for Congress. His volunteer base now includes over 200 people making phone calls and sending texts.
“Laughing is a sign of my disbelief,” he said.
Whether these candidates will join previous waves of young politicians in the House of Representatives will be decided this week.