Dec 7, 2019

Reality bites? Gen X presidential candidates becoming biggest losers

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photos: Joe Raedle, Jim Watson, Joshua Lott, Ethan Miller, Paras Griffin, Win McNamee, Alex Wong, Noam Galai (All Getty)

Now should be their time in life to grab the reins, but when it comes to the 2020 presidential field, Generation X candidates are becoming an endangered species.

The big picture: All the frontrunners in the still-crowded Democratic field are either Millennials (Pete Buttigieg, 37), Baby Boomers (Elizabeth Warren, 70), or products of the Silent Generation (Joe Biden, 77, and Bernie Sanders, 78).

  • At 73, President Donald Trump is one of America's oldest boomers.

Driving the news: The departures of Kamala Harris (55) and Steve Bullock (53) this week from the Democratic nominating contest are just the latest examples of the failures of Gen X to gain traction.

  • Beto O'Rourke (47), Kirsten Gillibrand (52), Tim Ryan (46), and Seth Moulton (41) are earlier casualties.
  • Hanging in the contest but at 3% or lower in national polls: Gen Xers Cory Booker (50), Julián Castro (45), Andrew Yang (44) and Michael Bennet (55). (Amy Klobuchar, 59, and John Delaney, 56, are boomers. Tulsi Gabbard, 38, is one of the oldest Millennials.)
  • Harris was born in October 1964, and Bennet in November 1964, on the bubble between Gen X and boomer, but culturally they have more in common with the experiences of Gen X.

What's next: Two late entrants, who jumped in last month after concluding the Democratic field just might not have what it takes, are either boomers (Deval Patrick, 63) or from the Silent Generation (Mike Bloomberg, 77).

  • Bloomberg and another candidate, boomer Tom Steyer (62), are billionaires, so they can afford to stay in the race until the convention regardless of polling.

By the numbers: Generation X generally describes people born 1965-80 — putting them between the ages of 39 and 54 — per the Pew Research Center.

  • The Silent Generation covers birth years 1928-45.
  • Baby Boomers were born 1946-64.
  • Millennials were born 1981-96.
  • Generation Z includes people born between 1997 and 2012. While some Zs can vote next November, none is yet old enough to run for president.

Why it matters: Other generations might argue, it doesn't. (Ouch!) Gen X is a smaller pack population-wise than either boomers or Millennials.

  • The New York Times summed it up as a "gloomy, goofy club of forgotten middle children," while a Washington Post columnist made the case that Gen Xers have been underrated "repairers," "fixers" and "uniters."

Flashback: In cycles past, being in the age range that now covers Gen X was a sweet spot for presidential candidates.

  • Bill Clinton was elected at 46. Barack Obama was 47. George W. Bush was 54. (You guessed it. They're all boomers.)

Our thought bubble: As Lelaina Pierce said, "I was really going to be somebody by the time I was 23."

Go deeper

Immigration is shaping the youngest generation of voters

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios. Photo: H. Armstrong Roberts/Stringer

Members of Gen Z are more likely to have immigrant parents than even millennials when they were the same age.

The big picture: Gen Zers were born and are growing up in an era of booming immigration. But they are less likely to be immigrants themselves than millennials were, making a larger percentage of them automatically eligible to vote at 18.

Deep Dive: 2020's new voters will usher in an age of demographic transformation

Data: Census Bureau 2017 Population projections. Note: Data includes non-citizens, who would not be eligible to vote; Chart: Danielle Alberti/Axios

First-time 2020 voters will usher in a wave of demographic transformation — a remaking of the American identity that's projected to crest in the 2040s.

What’s happening: Millions of Generation Z Americans— those born after 1996 —will be able to vote for the first time next year. The 2020 census, redistricting and elections will begin to reveal population changes that will empower new voices and reshuffle the swing-state map and both parties' bases.

Young people are outnumbered and outvoted by older generations

Data: Census Bureau; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Despite the hype around young Americans' civic activism and record voter turnout in 2018, the voting power of young people is shrinking.

The big picture: On top of young adults being less likely to show up at the polls, the number of people under 25 who are even eligible to vote has fallen, according to a Census data analysis by Brookings Institution's William Frey.

Go deeperArrowDec 14, 2019