Will Gen Z Realize the Dormant Promise of the Youth Vote?

tags: political history, youth vote, Gen Z

Alison Gash is coauthor of Democracy’s Child: Young People and the Politics of Control, Leverage, and Agency. (Oxford, 2022)

Daniel J. Tichenor, a political science professor at the University of Oregon and senior fellow at the Wayne Morse Center, is co-author of Rivalry and Reform: Presidents, Social Movements, and the Transformation of American Politics and Democracy’s Child: Young People and the Politics of Control, Leverage, and Agency.

Young voters helped Democrats defy historical expectations in the midterm elections, blunting a predicted “red wave” and triggering Republican infighting. For years, most analyses of the GOP’s looming demographic problems — and even the false and racist claim that Democrats want immigrants to “replace” White voters — have centered around the party’s struggles with racial minorities. But this ignores what may be an even bigger demographic threat to Republicans’ future: Gen Z voters.

Exit polls by major news outlets and scholarly reports found that voters under 30 backed Democratic congressional candidates by almost 30 percentage points: 63 percent to 35 percent. Nearly identical youth margins helped Democrats become the first party in control of the White House since 1934 to retain all of its state legislative majorities in a midterm election. Youth support for Democrats jumped even higher in pivotal battleground Senate contests — young voters favored John Fetterman in Pennsylvania by a 42-point margin and Sen. Mark Kelly in Arizona by 56 points. Young voters were a key focus of Sen. Raphael G. Warnock’s campaign in Georgia’s Senate runoff election, a strategy that paid off.

These young voters aren’t dyed-in-the-wool Democrats, but they’ve leaned hard toward the party in 2020 and 2022 because of issues they care about: combating climate change, abortion rights, racial justice, LGBTQ rights, economic justice, gun violence and mental health. Gen Z has cut its political teeth mobilizing for causes like March for Our Lives, the Sunrise Movement, Black Lives Matter, immigrant inclusion and LGBTQ rights. “I don’t think older generations realize how fundamentally angry we are,” explained Maddie Billet, a 20-year-old Pennsylvanian who voted Democratic. “We were born into a world where the environment is crumbling, democracy is dying, bigotry is becoming the norm, and we’re angry about it.”

Gen Z’s indignation and political activism is stirring but not new. Yet, unlike earlier youth activists, Gen Z has connected the dots between movement insurgency and voter mobilization. That could be a game changer.

More than a century ago, young workers became the face of the American labor movement. In 1899, newsboys went on strike, railing against the “greed” of millionaire newspaper magnates Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst. Four years later, labor organizer Mother Jones led the first Children’s Crusade of mill worker children who were fighting for a workweek of no more than 55 hours and a prohibition on night shifts for young people.

Both the newsboys’ strike and the Children’s Crusade made headlines because they dramatically captured the unanticipated power of youth protest. However, this political energy was not registered at the ballot box because young people couldn’t vote. The lack of youth electoral power ultimately freed politicians to ignore their demands.

Read entire article at Made By History at the Washington Post

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