Very few of the young Americans who carried President Obama to electoral victory in 2008 have chosen to follow him into public service, The New York Times reports on Monday. Which made us wonder who inspired the current Congress to seek office. The answer? Two Republican stalwarts.
There are a lot of caveats that should be applied to the Times story, not the least of which is that most candidates for office tend to skew a little older than the 18-year-olds that cast their first votes six years ago. But regardless, Jason Horowitz writes, "[u]nlike John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, who inspired virtual legislatures of politicians and became generational touchstones, Mr. Obama has so far had little such influence." Harvard's John Della Volpe agrees: "If you were to call it an Obama generation, there was a window. That opportunity has been lost."
We wanted to try and figure out what Presidential Generation (to take Della Volpe's language) actually carried the most weight in Congress today. We pulled the age of each member of the House at inauguration (thanks, Wikipedia) and calculated two values: the year each member was born and the age he or she turned 18. Then we compared that to the presidents at each of those points.
Members of the House are, on average, about 57 years old according to the Congressional Budget Office. Which explains the first set of data on the chart below: a plurality of the current House were born under presidents Truman and Eisenhower. But the more interesting point of data centers on the president when the members of the House turned 18.
That's right. More members of the current Congress voted for the first time under presidents Nixon and Reagan than other presidents. (The voting age was lowered to 18 in 1971, during Nixon's presidency.) In third place is Carter — suggesting, perhaps that some of the people who got engaged by Reagan were 22 or older when they did so.
In total, 255 members of the House turned 18 with a Republican in the White House. That's slightly outperforming its party composition today; 233 members of the House represent the Republican party.