Over the last few weeks, a couple of Wall Street Journal reporters did what any smart political journalist should be doing in the run-up to a presidential campaign. They dialed up all 99 Democratic Party county leaders in Iowa, and quizzed them on the emerging field of 2020 candidates. It was a valuable exercise: with our elite political conversation ever more narrowed by the distorted reality of Twitter, outside-the-Beltway voices remain depressingly hard to to find in mainstream political news. Party activists like those in Iowa, the first state to vote come 2020, still matter. Not because they wield the same kind of grassroots influence that they used to, but because they’re just earnest, highly engaged voters in what might be the country’s most important political state. They pay close attention to politics without being jaded. Their opinions tell us more about the Democratic psyche than any current poll of the 2020 race can.

What did the Journal team find? The biggest emerging divide in the early field was not about ideology or race or anything directly related to President Donald Trump. The overwhelming takeaway was that Democrats want generational change. It was bad news for the three Democrats already seen as front-runners for the nomination: Bernie Sanders (age 77), Joe Biden (76), and Elizabeth Warren (69). The same can be said of former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, age 76, who toured Iowa on Tuesday as he ponders a White House bid.

“They’re all too old,” Chris Henning, the 71-year-old Democratic chairwoman in Greene County, told the Journal. “It’s not white-bread America anymore; we’ve got to get with the program.”

Read that quote again, and the person who said it. Even the olds don’t want the olds to run for president!

It’s a lesson borne out by the midterm elections, which saw a new generation of Democrats sweep into power, thanks in part to the highest turnout among young voters in a quarter century. An estimated 31 percent of eligible 18- to 29-year-olds cast ballots in 2018, and they broke for Democrats nationwide by a 31-point margin. The three splashiest Democrats on statewide ballots—Andrew Gillum in Florida (age 39), Beto O’Rourke in Texas (46), and Stacey Abrams in Georgia (44)—all narrowly lost. But among millennials, these young candidates crushed. In O’Rourke’s case, he beat Ted Cruz by a head-exploding 42-point margin among under-30 voters. It was a clear marker that new faces and innovative campaigns can deliver big results for Democrats as they look to the future.

But the changing face of Democratic politics is perhaps better reflected by the new House members who won last month, and not just because young people voted for them. Older people did, too. There are now roughly 20 Democratic members of Congress under the age of 40, including 29-year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, 29-year-old Abby Finkenauer, and and 31-year-old Katie Hill of California. All of them were toddlers when the Berlin Wall fell, all of them were in middle school when 9/11 happened, and all of them were raised in a world connected by the Internet. This is a good thing, because they understand more about the country as it is now better than most of the people tasked with running it. If you don’t believe that, then you have a warm seat waiting for you on the Senate committee that didn’t know how to ask Mark Zuckerberg a single valuable question about technology when he testified on Capitol Hill.

More from Vanity Fair