Episode 308
Oct 27, 2020

The United States is a gerontocracy

Here's how to get out of it.

More than half of registered voters in this country are over the age of 50.

That’s reflected in Congress, where the average age of a lawmaker is 58. But the most influential people at the Capitol are much older: Sen. Mitch McConnell is 78 and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is 80. No matter who wins the election next week, the White House will be occupied by the oldest sitting U.S. president.

There’s a word for “rule by elders”: gerontocracy. The lack of representation of those under 50 in the halls of power may have to do with the fact that young people are just not as likely to vote.

“This isn’t about millennials, it’s not about Gen Z — it is about age,” said Abby Kiesa, a youth vote researcher at CIRCLE, part of Tufts University. “It’s about our struggle — this intractable issue that we’ve had over the past 50 years since we lowered the voting age — to get more young people to turn out to vote.”

On today’s show, Kiesa will talk through the data, tell us why campaigning to young people is hard and bust some myths about the “youth vote” — like that it’s a liberal monolith.

Later, Kai Ryssdal and Molly Wood talk about some knock-on economic effects of the pandemic, which was for some people a big experiment in What It’s Like When Americans Make Enough Money. Plus, we’ll hear from some listeners who are voting for the first time this cycle about what’s driving them to the polls.

When you’re done listening, tell your Echo device to “make me smart” for our daily explainers. This week: presidential transportation, the gig economy and Halloween candy, natch. Also, don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter! You can find the latest issue here.

Here’s a list of everything we talked about today:

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The team

Molly Wood Host
Jody Becker Interim Senior Producer
Tony Wagner Digital Producer
Sam Anderson Associate Producer