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Congress

The Rise of the Career Politician

The freshmen class of House members of the 112th Congress.(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

photo of Niraj Chokshi
July 9, 2013

When he announced his resignation from Congress a few weeks ago, California Republican John Campbell cited his 14 years in elective office as the reason: He had been in politics long enough, he said.

 

"I am not nor did I ever intend to be a career politician," Campbell said in late June. "I am ready to begin a new chapter in my life."

 

Whether he was aware of it or not, Campbell was part of a growing group of career politicians and public servants. The number of House members whose previous careers were in public service or politics has risen steadily from 94 to 184 from 1987 to today, according to congressional data compiled by the Brookings Institution and the American Enterprise Institute.

 

The data, though spotty at times, go back as far as 1953 and also show that fewer and fewer representatives are veterans or former lawyers. (The decline in the number of veteran lawmakers is likely a reflection of the dwindling veteran population broadly.) Meanwhile, more and more House lawmakers were previously businessmen or bankers, too.

 

Public service or politics was the most popular previous occupation among House Democrats in 2005, 2007, 2009, and 2011, according to the data. Business or banking was the top previous job for Republican representatives from 1985 through 2009. You can check out the data in the charts below.

 

Note: The Brookings/AEI data was pulled from a variety of sources and gaps indicate years for which there was no data available. Some members are listed as having more than one occupation.

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