Generation Z makes up one-tenth of the electorate in a year characterized by widespread protests, a global health crisis and political upheaval. The oldest of the generation of 18- to 23-year-olds could make all the difference in key states as the battle for the White House, Congress and Supreme Court draws near.
POLITICO and Morning Consult surveyed 1,000 eligible Gen Z voters between Sept. 17-21, and separately surveyed 1,987 registered voters of all ages between Sept. 18-20. We also launched a social media callout that received hundreds of responses.
Here are six big picture takeaways about Gen Z’s political attitudes in 2020.
While all registered voters are almost split down the middle on Trump’s performance in office, Gen Z has a much dimmer view of the president, with about two thirds of respondents disapproving of his performance.
If the election were held today, only a quarter of Gen Zers would vote for Trump (half would go to Joe Biden), compared with 42 percent of registered voters.
And even though Gen Z is twice as likely to vote for Biden over Trump, a significant chunk is doing so out of a backlash to the president. Almost half of Gen Z respondents to our poll are voting against Trump, rather than for Biden.
“My values are not being represented by the president or his enablers in the Senate. The issues of our time like climate change and the national debt have been pushed to the side for too long and need to be addressed for the sake of future generations.”
Adam Marl, 20, moderate
“It is the party of small government, but Donald Trump is a cancer in the party.”
Augustine Smythe, 21, conservative
“I am a registered Republican, but I wouldn’t say I’m currently a Republican. I can’t support the party because of how they cower to Trump and have no regard for human life during the pandemic.”
Theresa Morrissey, 21, moderate
Thirty-eight percent of Gen Z respondents to our poll identified as liberal — more than double the percentage of conservative Gen Zers. They’re also more left-of-center than registered voters.
But despite this significant leftward bend, Gen Zers are no more likely to identify as Democrats than registered voters, instead choosing to buck the two-party system and go independent.
Their hesitation to identify as Democratic is reflected in their approval ratings of both Biden and congressional Democrats, which are slightly less favorable than those of registered voters. And, as charts showed earlier, many of them are voting for Biden because of anti-Trump sentiment.
“I don’t agree with all the Democratic policies and I would prefer if I wasn’t essentially forced into a binary choice when voting.”
Walter Scheldorf, 18, liberal
“Although I am very critical of the Democratic establishment, the Democratic Party seems to align more with my stances. I don’t really like Biden, both as a person and a politician. However, I am in danger [if] Trump is reelected. Voting third party isn’t an option this time.”
Abbie Langmead, 19, liberal
“The Democratic Party does continue to have the influence of lobbyists, and the establishment of the party can seem out of touch with a lot of young people. As a delegate to the DNC for Bernie, I struggled with these issues. But the party does still stand for diversity and equality, and — compared to Republicans — wants as many people as possible to vote.”
Joseph Mullen, 18, liberal
Just under half of Gen Z respondents said they were “absolutely certain” to vote in November, compared with nearly 80 percent of registered voters. While they make up one-tenth of the electorate this year, separate Morning Consult intelligence finds that they’re only 4 percent of likely voters.
Gen Zers were also much less likely than registered voters to deny they didn’t like either of the two presidential candidates to vote.
“Both candidates are extremely terrible … Joe Biden must be more left in order for me to vote for him. ‘Any old blue, just won’t do.’”
Miriton Brahimi, 19, liberal
“I recently heard a phrase that sums voting up perfectly: Voting isn’t marriage, it’s public transportation. You’re not waiting for ‘the one,’ you’re getting [on] the bus. And if there isn’t one to your destination you don’t not travel — you take the one closest to [where] you’re going.”
Roy Ziv, 23, moderate
“I don’t really believe the ‘don’t boo, vote’ thing all the way, but I feel like you should vote if you can. It’s a moral thing.”
Vidalia Cornwall, 21, liberal
First-time voters already face significant barriers to understanding and participating in the electoral process. Gen Z has to figure it out during a pandemic election, which puts a focus on vote-by-mail. Just over a third of Gen Z poll respondents feel very confident about their ability to vote by mail.
The percentage of Gen Zers who were very confident they could vote in person was 27 points lower than registered voters who said the same.
Young people are less likely than registered voters to consider voting impactful, or the end-all and be-all of civic participation. And despite gaps on the impact of voting, Gen Zers are still almost as likely to believe they can affect politics and public affairs.
“Until young people start voting at the rates older Americans do, I don’t think our elected officials will really pay attention to the issues or policies that my generation cares about.”
Raymond Gilmartin, 22, liberal
“Not voting is a surrender to the widespread disillusionment and cynicism regarding politics. Some of my friends are tired — tired of hearing about Trump, of Covid-19, of the political conflicts. But if we want to see a change in political norms, then we have to vote for that change.”
John Lin, 20, liberal
“To be honest, I did not vote in the primary of this 2020 election because I felt extremely burned out. But I am definitely voting this November because of the recent events that have happened. It’s too scary and too stressful to sleep at night.”
Karl Catarata, 23, moderate
With the widespread uprising against police brutality, Gen Z is more supportive of protests and protesters, while registered voters are more likely to support the police.
Gen Zers are also much less likely than registered voters to think that Black Lives Matter protests, specifically, are “too violent.”
And while Gen Z respondents were less likely to think their vote mattered in comparison with registered voters, they were more likely to think that protesting is a very effective way to impact politics and public affairs, again signaling disillusionment with “politics as usual.”
“I think protesting and getting involved in outside groups are the most impactful way to get involved. ‘People organizing’ attracts attention and can amplify a message.”
Matthew Ryan Borja, 22, liberal
“We are seeing how impactful younger voices already are … We are just now seeing the newly shaped roaring twenties and what Generation Z politics has in store for America and the world.”
Cameron Rawlings, 19, moderate
“As we’ve seen with the millions marching in the streets for months, many of us (young and old) are ready for big change.”
Jamie Hobbs, 23, liberal
Unsurprisingly, the most digitally native generation gets its election news more from social media platforms than TV news and newspapers. But Facebook still ranks highly as a source of news for Gen Z respondents despite its falling popularity among the age group. TV, which is by far the most popular news source for registered voters, barely made the top 5 for Gen Z.
Gen Z respondents and registered voters were similar in their confidence at discerning “fake news.” Thirty-five percent of Gen Zers said they were very confident, compared with 34 percent of registered voters. Still, the way Gen Z interacts with the information space is vastly different from the “fake news” stories their parents were dealing with in 2016.
“We are children of the digital age. We have access to a new type [of] infrastructure for communication, organization, and mobilization that’s widely accessible and that wasn’t available to generations before us. There is so much power in that, if we choose to utilize it to its full potential.”
Bryce Chechile, 22, liberal
“I think that young people are infinitely better at navigating social media and sniffing out misinformation than older generations are since it’s the ecosystem we were essentially born into. Sometimes I look over my mom’s shoulder at her Facebook feed and see nothing but rampant misinformation about politics.”
Nathan Gonzales, 22, liberal
“Social media platforms like TikTok have been a particularly effective way [for] young people to disseminate political information to our peers, teach each other about certain issues, and refute right-wing talking points in a way that’s both entertaining and easy to digest.”
Austin Bartola, 21, liberal
Following the launch of POLITICO’s Gen Z, Rising series, we invite you to a virtual conversation to explore key takeaways learned about the Gen Z voter, their policy priorities and how they could impact the Biden v Trump presidential match up just days before Election Day. Register here to watch the virtual conversation.