“Z” may be the last number of the alphabet, but in politics, it’s becoming the first priority for political experts. That’s because Generation Z is rapidly being recognized as a force, one that’s gaining strength with every election cycle.
Gen Z comprises those 70 million Americans born between 1997 and 2012. They’ve grown up amidst mass shootings (and the endless lockdown drills in their schools), increased opioid addictions, and the fiscal uncertainties triggered by the Great Recession of 2008 (80 percent of families lost 20 percent of their wealth). They’re experiencing firsthand the effects of climate change and know that it will only get worse when they start having families. They’ve been witness to racial injustice highlighted by Black Lives Matter. More recently, they’re seeing women’s reproductive rights taken away.
To say that they’re concerned about what the future may hold for them is an understatement.
In 2016, 4% of Gen Z voted in the presidential election; in 2020, that number jumped to 10 percent, and it continues to grow as more of them become eligible to vote.
This age group tends to lean more towards Democratic or progressive policies, so it’s no surprise that conservatives are seeing what’s coming – and trying to stop it. For example, on top of the already-draconian limits some states are putting on voting, many are pushing to remove polling places from college campuses. 2024 Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy has proposed raising the voting age to (wait for it) 25 (it was lowered to 18 back in 1971).
However, Gen Z isn’t fighting today’s political battles with conventional weapons. They’re well-informed, savvy with social media and use it to share information and build engagement with their peers. They don’t wait for a traditional news cycle to call out politicians or harmful policies; they can have a TikTok video up in less than an hour and have it go viral by the end of an afternoon.
One example is activist Olivia Julianna (@Oliviajulianna on Twitter). When Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) body-shamed her as a teen, she cleverly used his trolling to raise over $750,000 for her local Planned Parenthood. At 20, Harry Sisson (@harryjsisson) posts “man on the street” videos expertly debunking the usual talking points with deeply researched facts. He typically leaves his older opponent absolutely dumbfounded that this “kid” knows what’s up.
Those of us of a certain age have always heard that young people are just not engaged in anything important, too busy posting selfies on Instagram -- or whatever the kids do these days. But the energy and enthusiasm of Gen Z puts the lie to that trope. After all, they’re the ones born and raised amid so many of our nation’s traumas and issues of the last 30-ish years. And they’re determined to get busy fixing what prior generations have broken. So, step aside: Generation Z is coming through!
Do you have any Gen Zers in your life? How do they view the current issues in our society? If you’re Gen Z, what are the most important issues to you? Sound off in our Community Soapbox!
Cindy Grogan is a writer, lover of history and "Star Trek" (TOS), and hardcore politics junkie. There was that one time she campaigned for Gerald Ford (yikes), but ever since, she's been devoted to Democratic and progressive policies.