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Supporting Young People on their Path to Running for Office

A new CIRCLE white paper outlines inequities in who is encouraged to seek elected office, and how we can support more young candidates.

Lead Author: Sara Suzuki, Postdoctoral Researcher
Contributors: Kelly Siegel-Stechler, Peter de Guzman, Alberto Medina, Abby Kiesa, Maha Mapara, Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg


Despite two straight election cycles with historic levels of youth voter turnout, young people remain underrepresented at the ballot box. They also remain vastly underrepresented on the ballot itself: youth run for office at much lower rates than older adults, leading some to classify the United States as a “gerontocracy.”

Just as with disparities in youth voting, the relative lack of young people in elected office stands in the way of achieving an equitable and representative democracy. And just as with youth voting, much of it can be traced, not to youth apathy or disinterest, but to broader deficiencies in whether we’re creating systems and structures that help young people to participate in democracy.

In a new white paper, we analyze data from multiple sources to examine the overall landscape of youth running for office and draw implications for how communities and institutions can encourage and support more (and more diverse) youth to run. We describe how many and which youth have run for office, who has expressed interest in running, who feels prepared and encouraged to do so, and some of the barriers to running for office that may prevent youth from becoming candidates.

This research was conducted with support from Snap, which last year launched a new tool to help connect young people with opportunities to run for office, and seeks to inform their efforts and those of other platforms, parties, and organizations who want to diversify the pool of candidates for office at every level of government.

Major Findings

Our research highlights several dynamics that shape our understanding of whether youth view running for office as an option, are encouraged to do so, and ultimately decide to run:

  • People ages 62 and older still run for office at a much higher rate than youth (ages 18-25), but the rate of young people who seek elected office has increased in the past 10 years and more than 20% of youth say they would consider running for office.
  • Among youth, young women and youth of color are less likely to report having run for office already than young men and white youth, respectively. However, when we compare young candidates to older candidates, young candidates are more likely to be people of color than older candidates.
  • Black and Latino youth are more likely to say they would consider running for office than white youth, which suggests there’s vast untapped potential to support and encourage youth of color to run for office.
  • Interest in running for office is related to civic engagement opportunities, and to having received encouragement to run—but encouragement is highly unequal between youth of different races/ethnicities, genders, and political parties.
  • Young people, who are more likely than older adults to be on the lowest income levels and to work part-time, perceive serious drawbacks to running for office related to their financial situations.

About Our Partnership: Snap

Social media and digital platforms are an increasingly vital tool for young people’s political learning and engagement. In the past two years, CIRCLE has partnered with Snap, informing its growing efforts to facilitate youth voter registration, promote youth media creation about elections and issues, and most recently to encourage youth to explore running for office.

Implications for Action

Our research underscores that the pool of young people who are potentially interested in running for office is vastly larger and more diverse than the group of youth who actually end up running. That suggests there’s a gap between intention and action that can be bridged by efforts from candidate recruitment organizations, political parties, issue-focused groups and other stakeholders.

The findings in this paper point to what those efforts must entail: opportunities for civic engagement and action, outreach from personal networks, as well as explicit encouragement and support that can foster feelings of being qualified to run and allay concerns about financial barriers and other deterrents. The data also highlights which young people stand to benefit from that outreach and support the most: young women, youth of color, queer youth, low-income young people, and others for whom the barriers to running for office are more salient.

Communities and institutions at every level can and must work together to make running for office a viable, realistic alternative for a wide variety of youth. These diverse voices in elected office are essential to achieving a more inclusive, equitable, and representative democracy.