Don’t Scroll Past Gen Z -- How to Harness This Generation’s Political Impact

Historically, the youth voting bloc has trailed all others when it comes to voter participation, which has led to a healthy dose of skepticism among political elites about their potential turnout. But for all the speculation about whether or not Gen Z will go to the polls or who they might vote for, there hasn’t been much of an effort to understand the barriers that keep them from voting, the issues that matter most to them, and how best to reach this influential generation. 

This summer, we set out to unpack that, by partnering with Tufts’ University’s Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), Morning Consult, and Crowd DNA on new quantitative and qualitative research among bipartisan Gen Z voters and experts on youth civic engagement. Today we’re publishing our findings, which reveal that we should expect Gen Z -- many of whom will be eligible to vote in their first presidential election this year -- to show up to vote like never before in 2020.

Among our findings:

  • The pandemic is hitting home: 82% percent of Gen Zers say the COVID-19 pandemic has made them realize how political leaders’ decisions impact their everyday lives. 

  • Activism leads to voting: Young people who identify themselves as both conservative and liberal consider themselves activists -- and recent studies show that activism makes them more likely to vote. 

  • College is a primary resource for voter engagement: 63% of students aged 18-21 typically learn about civic processes while attending college -- whether from voter registration drives happening on campus or fellow students. 

  • Our systems leave out huge numbers of young voters: Only 33% of 18-23 year olds are able to attend college full-time, which means there is a huge population of eligible young voters who historically have not had as much access to information and resources that will help them vote. 

In short, our existing voting processes haven’t been modernized for a mobile-first generation and the way they communicate and consume information. But our research shows they are poised to overcome this barrier in 2020. Mobile civic tools can play a pivotal role for young people in this election by providing resources to educate young voters, help them register, provide a sample ballot, and ensure they understand their voting options -- whether by mail or in person.

Given the pandemic’s impact on college campuses -- and the number of young people who aren’t traditional full-time students -- digital tools can serve as an equalizer in providing civic and political information to young Americans across the country.

We hope this research is helpful for those working to connect with Gen Z ahead of this election -- and in elections going forward -- and ultimately to help them achieve the representation they deserve. 2020 might be the year that we see historic youth voter turnout, and we encourage you to check out our full white paper. 

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