How old is too old in government representation?

Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley stands with former President Ronald Reagan in 1981. Grassley has been in office since then, warranting some concern pertaining to both his age and his ability to represent younger generations.

Karl Schumacher via Wikipedia Creative Commons

Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley stands with former President Ronald Reagan in 1981. Grassley has been in office since then, warranting some concern pertaining to both his age and his ability to represent younger generations.

Lauren Anderson, Copy Editor

The United States is a country founded on principles of innovation and modernization, yet government officials have always been in dire contrast to that principle. 

Presidencies have all been held by men, only one of whom has been African-American. Across all state high courts, just 17%of justices are Black, Latino, Asian-American or Native-American. In Congress, only 23% of seats are filled by racial or ethnic minorities. 

While diversity in government roles has been deficient in American politics, there is another blatantly obvious demographic found unproportionally in positions of power: old people. President Joe Biden is 78 years old, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is 82 years old and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is 80 years old. 

Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley epitomizes the typical government figure. A white, Republican male, Grassley has hardly faced any adversity in his path to election and consistent re-election. At 88 years old – already the second oldest member of the Senate – Grassley plans to run for another term as an Iowa representative, which would make him 94 years old when the subsequent six-year Senate term ends. 

Aside from his role as the senior U.S. senator from Iowa, Grassley serves as a ranking member of the Judiciary Committee and president pro tempore emeritus of the Senate. His experience certainly warrants some credibility, but his well-being raises some concerns as Grassley is eight years older than the average lifespan of a U.S. male. 

So why is Grassley confidently running for re-election at such an old age? 

The unwavering persistence of Grassley is partially attributed to his overwhelming support in past elections. In 2016, he swept opponents and won 60.1% of the votes with the closest competitor, Patty Judge, earning only 35.7%. 

Though the Iowa senator has been supported, for the most part, by both Democrats and Republicans for 31 years, a recent poll from the Des Moines Register showed “​​nearly two-thirds (64%) of likely voters in Iowa’s 2022 midterm elections think it’s time for someone other than Chuck Grassley to hold office.”

Politics are often run by the older generation for a number of reasons, one of which being that voters over the age of 65 have a much stronger turnout than young voters. Political science studies have also shown that voters are more likely to vote for a candidate around their own age, resulting in an unproportional amount of old politicians. While an age cap may be necessary, younger generations would certainly have a larger influence on the government if their voter turnout was stronger. 

There are rigid restrictions prohibiting younger politicians from holding certain positions or running for office, but the lack of young people represented in politics has raised the question whether there should be an age cap installed as well. 

At the age of 54, Iowa native Carl Sopraki has been a frequent voter in both local and national elections. “There would be good sides and bad sides to an age cap,” he stated. “On the one hand, age means experience… but it can also mean old policies and no progress.” 

While politicians like Grassley may represent the demographic of actual voters– an average age of 57, almost an entire generation older than the voting age itself – younger generations have a different set of ideals which are not being proportionally represented in any level of government. 

“If there were age restrictions, we would get more candidates prepared for the modern world,” senior Claire Haas said. “I support a term limit rather than an age limit, where someone can serve no more than x amount of years in a row… it would force candidates to reestablish themselves and win over voters.” 

One of the most divisive topics between newer generations and older politicians is climate change. The challenge of solving or even slowing climate change must be intergenerational, which cannot happen if young voters have little representation in politics. Though Grassley has historically been better than most Republicans on taking action against climate change, his stance has not been strong enough to win the support of young, concerned voters. 

Gerontocracy has been prevalent in the United States since its founding, but how old is problematically old? Chuck Grassley is certainly pushing the boundary, but only time will tell if he will spend another six years in the Senate or if young voters will finally be represented.