In 2016, Donald Trump became the first president ever elected without political or military experience. His success was presaged by the 2010 GOP Tea Party movement that prioritized ‘outsiders’ over traditional political operatives and elected officials. In 2018, Democrats took control of the House with candidates who were newcomers to political campaigns. This cycle, four high-profile Senate races that The Cook Political Report rates as competitive feature GOP candidates who have not yet held any political office (Dr. Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania; Blake Masters in Arizona; Herschel Walker in Georgia; and J.D. Vance in Ohio).

That got us wondering if we are seeing a record number of candidates elected to Congress who have no previous experience in elective office. To test this theory, Cook Political Report intern Peter Jones did a deep dive into the political experience and education levels of the 2,029 members of Congress elected since 1980.

The result is a small, four percent increase in the number of congresspeople with no prior experience in elected office, from about 30.7% in 1981 to 34.6% today.

More from the Cook Political Report

Off Year
National Politics
Photo of Charlie Cook
First Person
Cook Politcal Logo