Countering a red wave, Gen Z emerges as a powerful voting force

Driven by concerns about climate change, public education and, to a lesser extent, abortion access, 21-year-old Ava Alferez secured her vote in the 2022 midterm elections.

“I don’t think it’s fair to complain about anything if you don’t come out and vote,” says the Virginia College student, who describes herself as a liberal Democrat. “I also think every vote counts.”

Alferez is among millions of youngest American voters who cast their ballots in near-record numbers during the 2022 midterms, breaking strongly for Democrats and thwarting an anticipated “red wave” that many believe would give Republicans a boost. significant majority in Congress. The strong performance indicates that Gen Z is a rising political force.

“I think Republicans are ignoring Gen Z and realizing the impact we’re going to have, especially in the next five years,” says Eric Miller, a 20-year-old college student from Virginia who identifies as a Republican. and says he voted for Donald Trump in 2020. “I think the 2022 midterm elections are a bit of a wake-up call for Republicans to be more in touch with young people.”

Midterm elections are held in the middle of a president’s four-year term. All 435 seats in the House of Representatives – where members serve two-year terms – and 35 of the 100 seats in the Senate were up for grabs in 2022.

Women cheer during a Reproductive Freedom For All watch party on election night in Detroit, Michigan on November 8, 2022.

Historically, the president’s political party almost always loses seats in Congress, with the opposing party traditionally making significant gains. Republicans have won a majority in the House this election cycle, but only by a handful of seats, while Democrats have held on narrowly in the Senate.

“I think the data will confirm that young voters have been quite prominent in many of these swing states and in some of these elections,” says John Wihbey, associate professor of media innovation and technology at Northeastern University.

Early figures from the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) suggest that 27% of people aged 18-29 voted on November 8, the second highest turnout among young people in mid – mandate in 30 years. (The highest was in 2018.)

“It’s reproductive rights, climate change, immigration, racial justice, gender justice,” says Wihbey, listing the issues that have driven young people to the polls.

According to a recent poll, young evangelicals are not that different from their more liberal peers.

“They care about diversity and equity, more so than older generations and as a result, they’re going to take these things seriously and listen to people talking about them, like AOC [New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez] Where [Vermont Sen.] Bernie Sanders,” says Kevin Singer, co-director of Neighborly Faith, a partner in the study. “They are very, I guess you could say, cosmopolitan in terms of their political outlook.”

A young voter at an election night for Georgia's Republican U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker at the Omni Hotel in Atlanta, Georgia on November 8, 2022.

A young voter at an election night for Georgia’s Republican U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker at the Omni Hotel in Atlanta, Georgia on November 8, 2022.

Wihbey says Gen Z doesn’t get its information from traditional sources like newspapers, but rather second-hand or filtered information from social media, which has allowed young voters to form opinions about politics at a faster pace. much higher than previous generations.

“I wouldn’t say it’s surprising at all because everyone is on their phone all the time on social media,” says Alferez, who says she’s voted in every election since she turned 18. to vote. “It would make sense that they get all their information from TikTok or maybe if they see a political post they’ll always look in the comments and everyone has very strong opinions and comments, and they’ll probably forge opinions on that basis.”

Early analysis from CIRCLE shows turnout by young voters may have helped Democrats win key victories in some battleground states, but that doesn’t mean either political party can hold out. youth voting for granted.

“It’s possible that young voters are less attached to a particular party and vote more frequently on a particular issue,” Wihbey says. “I think part of what the digital world does is it creates less strong connections to particular parties or causes and puts the focus on the new or growing social problem.”

College student Ava Alferez, 21, of Virginia, says she votes in every election.  (Photo courtesy of Ava Alferez)

College student Ava Alferez, 21, of Virginia, says she votes in every election. (Photo courtesy of Ava Alferez)

This appears to be true for young voters of all political backgrounds, according to the results of the survey of young evangelicals.

“I think they’re less beholden to the Republican Party than the older generations, and we also see that they tune in to Fox News and, say, CNN at about the same rate,” Singer says. “They’re listening to Joe Biden and listening to Elon Musk, and that’s no big surprise given Gen Z is much more comfortable drawing inspiration from a variety of sources than being held to the standards of certain institutions. “

Miller, the young Republican voter, says his generation is less interested in partisan bickering and more interested in finding common ground.

“We are doing a little more research. We don’t just watch, maybe, Fox News, and we listen to the other side, what they’re trying to say,” Miller says. “I think the center is where everything is essential. Obviously, I don’t think the extremes will ever get along in any time frame. But I think we can reach out to moderate Democrats, even liberals — but maybe not progressive liberals — but I definitely see a way forward.

The results of the survey of young evangelicals seem to confirm an increased openness on the part of Gen Z conservatives.

“Young evangelicals are frankly more peaceful with others than older generations. Our study found that, for example, they are more likely to be engaged with people of different faiths than their religious leaders encourage them to be. be,” Singer says. “There is definitely more enthusiasm for diversity and pluralism and I think for that reason they are more likely to accept the views of those with whom their parents would disagree.

Signs of enthusiasm from young voters were evident ahead of Election Day. CIRCLE found that youth voter registration was up from 2018, especially in places where abortion-related issues appeared on ballots, or where voters recently voted on abortion-related measures.

“My concern is that as we see a lot of political whiplash, whether it’s on reproductive rights or other things, that they become cynical or disengage,” Wihbey says. “I think one of the most important things here is that they see the political system that we have in our democracy as an important lever for social change, not something that’s just kind of a dead end.”

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