👵 Just like me?

Young people are under-represented in parliaments around the world. Descriptive under-representation itself is not a problem as long as the interests and perspectives of the younger and older generations overlap. Yet, intergenerational conflicts can transform this descriptive into substantial under-representation of young people’s interests.

Fridays for Future, a movement which is not only mainly composed of young people, but also explicitly emphasises the intergenerational dimension of climate change, attracted public attention towards the issue of intergenerational conflict. The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic further intensified the salience of an intergenerational conflict. Young people were asked to sacrifice social contacts and personal freedom in order to protect the elderly. This co-occured with widespread neglection of the perspectives, struggles and interests of students and young people in general in political discourse. Accordingly, the awareness of intergenerational conflict and political under-representation of young people surged during Covid-19 and youth protest on climate change. This results in the expectation that age and generation as a group characteristic become more relevant for voting.

In our study, we investigate to what extent people vote for candidates who are closer to their own age. Our main argument feeds from the fact that individuals are more likely to vote for candidates that resemble themselves more closely. Yet, which characteristics evolve to be most relevant is shaped by the saliency of certain intergroup conflicts. Building on the social identity approach, we suggest that especially young citizens’ generational group membership became more salient in recent years, resulting in increased group voting. We research these expectations on GLES cross-section data combined with data on all district candidates collected by the Bundeswahlleiter running in the German federal elections of 2013, 2017 and 2021.