Each generation has its own unique story and set of experiences that leads to its generalized political ideology and philosophy. Generation Z now, and for the next few years, is considered the young voting bloc. With the title of the young voting bloc comes the stigma of that group not voting, but it is nothing new. The everlasting question is “why do young people not vote,” but there really is not one concrete answer because there can be so many factors to it.

As of 2020 most of Gen Z is not eligible to even vote yet but we are full of activists and the most progressive generation yet. The relationship between young people and poor voting turnout can be described as a cycle that, in order to be broken, needs the United States to have some hefty reforms. Politicians do not usually talk about issues young people could benefit from or support because they typically do not vote, but young people do not vote because politicians never talk about policies they would benefit from.

One defining characteristic of Gen Z is that we are the most informed generation yet because beginning at a young age we learned how to use the internet and how to effectively use it to research. It is difficult now for a politician to hide their past. Gen Z is notoriously good at finding anything we want on the web.

A common criticism of young non-voters is that they just are not informed, but that is not always true. In fact most of us are probably too informed. We recognize how broken the system is so many feel voting is not ideal. Especially when the choices are between two politicians who do not care about the issues of young voters.

When politicians do reach out to young voters, to put it plainly, it is embarrassing. In 2016 Hillary Clinton told us to “Pokemon go to the polls.” Attempts like these make us want to actively either not vote for that candidate or vote against that candidate. Most of us just want policy change, not platitudes.

I think it is fair to say that Gen Z can be considered to be an activist generation. A lot of young people are passionate about issues such as LGBTQ+ rights, Racial Justice, Climate Change, Labor Rights, or an infinite number of other issues. The recent resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement is proof that we are not afraid to protest for things we believe in.

Our outreach and how we portray our political beliefs / interests has been very much influenced by our relationship with the rise of the internet and smartphones. I remember being 5 years old and learning how to use a computer. For kids younger than me they are exposed to it at an even earlier age. We do political outreach by using Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook (if we want to reach an older audience), and especially TikTok now. TikTok in particular is a great app to use to teach people because they are short, eye-captivating videos. The amount of information I have have personally learned while using the app is astonishing. I have learned many things about US History that were not taught in school and learned about the ins and outs of a policies. Gen Z is the most informed generation because we know how to use the tools that are part of 21st century America. In fact we use them very wisely too because we educate each other using those tools to help.

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The Events that Shaped Gen Z’s Politics

Each generation has a split between the beginning and the end of when all of the members were born. Gen Z is no different.

The First Half

For the purposes of this piece I will consider the first half of Gen Z to be those born between 1996 and 2005.

As someone born in 2000, my political perspective is limited to only the 21st century. As children we saw America post-9/11, elect a Black President, and where gay marriage was legalized.

I have no memory of a pre-9/11 world when airport security was not as heightened and when we were not as heavily involved militarily in the Middle East. I was not even one year old when George W. Bush was elected President and the “hanging chad” controversy. In fact my first memory of President Bush is him at Barack Obama’s Inauguration when he handed power over. All of the after effects of 9/11 were just normal to us as children, which has affected how many of us perceive the heightened security state and things like the Patriot Act.

Another event under President Bush was the Great Recession, which played a big role in many of our childhoods. Economic collapses cause many ramifications that are not just purely about money. The 2008 crash caused strains on our parents’ marriages and family living situations.

The first President most of us can remember is Barack Obama. I know it was a big deal to have a Black man elected President but it was normal to us because he was really the first politician a lot of us actively got to see. It does not matter how the individual Gen Zer feels about a Black man as President or where they are on the political spectrum, he was the first one we were exposed to. I know I can vividly recall his inauguration in 2009. I was in 3rd grade and were all in our classrooms eating lunch watching him get sworn in. We had chicken nuggets that day and I can see myself eating them and watching him get sworn in on this fuzzy old TV in a classroom. That is something that has always stuck with me.

Gen Z has this split opinion of President Obama’s politics. Obviously you have those one the right that do not support anything he did while in office but what is more interesting is the majority on the left who are very split when talking about his legacy. I see two camps of people I know. The first one is made of your more moderate leaning, more loyal to the Democratic party itself, or even the casual voter who is not invested in politics 24/7. This camp is more likely to perceive him in a very positive light and long for the days of the Obama Presidency. The other camp is made up of more left leaning, populists, and those less loyal to the Democratic party itself. A lot of them were disappointed in his Presidency in that he ran this great, awe inspiring campaign in 2008 and then his when he was in office his policy often fell short of the hope and change many actually wanted. To put it in modern political terms they wanted him to be more like AOC and less like Nancy Pelosi.

Of course not all Gen Zers are in this second camp but a lot are and we can see that with how Bernie Sanders rose to prominence and with people like AOC in Congress.

The legalization of gay marriage in 2015 was a defining moment in American history and our lifetimes. In the three or so years before the Supreme Court ruling we saw this topic of can two people get married be this big deal. I think a lot of us were confused as to why it was up for debate. We grew up in a time where it was not legal yet but society was far more accepting than in our parents’ generation for example. Intrinsically Gen Z is very libertarian in the sense that we do not care what other people do. We think that a lot of these things that have been debated for decades are just basic human rights so it is no surprise that the majority of us were happy about the 2015 decision and the positive trending perception of the LGBTQ+ community. Of course this is not to say that the work is done regarding human rights but we are a step closer as a society.

I would also like to clarify that there are Gen Zers who are conservative, but for the most part we believe in typically left leaning things that fall under the category of human rights (i.e. Black Lives Matter and LGBTQ+ rights) and in civil liberties (i.e. legalized cannabis, reproductive rights). A trend I have seen among conservatives in my generation is that they are much more libertarian than older conservatives. That is where much of the common ground is between the left and the right in young folks. As aforementioned it is this idea of you do you, to put it in modern terminology. There are outliers to this political ideology but that naturally comes with the territory of trying to summarize the way of thinking of a huge swath of people.

The Second Half

For the purposes of this piece I will consider the second half of Gen Z to be those born between 2006 and today.

This second half saw a lot of the same things my half did but because they were born later have a much different perspective on the same events.

These are kids who were born either at the tail end of the Bush Presidency, during Obama’s Presidency, or under the current Trump administration. A lot of them do not remember anything about President Obama’s two terms in the same way I no recollection of George W. Bush. He is that half’s ex-President. Their first leader they saw was Donald Trump. We really will not know the effects of his Presidency until at minimum a few years down the road, but I imagine they will perceive the Office of the Presidency much differently.

One of the defining features for this group of kids is the rise in LGBTQ+ rights. Instead of seeing much of the fight and the struggle for them it is just part of who society from their perspective. They are much more likely to accept everyone no matter who they are.

In a few years we will be able to see where this half of Gen Z is politically. It is really hard to grasp where they are because they are so young right now and not as many life changing events have taken place in their lifetimes yet. With Coronavirus being this world changing pandemic, I think much of their politics will be formed from 2020. Whether that be them supporting universal housing, due to the looming eviction crisis, universal basic income, due to the mass unemployment, or even a reassurance of unions and labor rights, due to how poorly workers have been treated in this pandemic. For sure 2020 will have changed all of us, but the kids now will be defined by it.

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West Virginia University ~ Political Science and Addiction Studies