Guest Post: A Profile of Generation ZRachael Houston
Generation Z, or Gen Z, had a substantial presence at the ballot box in 2020. Political parties, civic organizations, and campaigns all fought to ensure that they turned out for Election Day. However, many leaders of these groups do not know how to connect with young adults, creating kitschy campaign slogans like “Pokémon-go-to-the-polls.”
This may be because these groups do not understand Generation Z. This generation does not remember the pre-9/11 world or a country that is not at war. Many of their first memories of our country’s history were during the Great Recession or one of many mass school shootings like Sandy Hook or Stoneman Douglas. According to Morning Consult, only 19% of those under 24 say the country is going in the right direction. Optimistically, 62% of respondents in the same poll said that they believed their generation can improve the world. Taken together, these events may influence Gen Z’s political views and explain why their opinions deviate from older generations, especially on issues of race and gun safety.
Indeed, their outlook on the world is also still evolving. According to the same Morning Consult poll, 75% of Generation Z said their political views changed because of COVID-19 and 68% said the same because of the Black Lives Matter movement.
In addition to the events that Gen Z has experienced in their lifetimes, Gen Z also differs from older generations demographically. Gen Z is the most racially diverse generation in modern American history. Demographers attribute this to the growing Asian and Hispanic populations in the United States, and they estimate that by 2026 the generation will become majority-minority. This could explain why Gen Z is more concerned about racial issues than older generations. According to Pew Research, 62% of Gen Z thought diversity was good for society while only 48% of Baby Boomers thought the same. Black Lives Matter has 81% approval from Gen Z, by far the most support from any age group. Stark divides can be seen with older generations by looking at the NFL kneeling protests as well, where 61% of Gen Z approved while only 37% of Baby Boomers said the same.
Gen Z is also 96% native born, yet shares an intimate link with the American immigration story with 22% having a parent born outside of the United States. As compared to previous generations, Gen Z is the most native born in recent history. Millennials were 9% foreign born, Gen X was 15%, and Baby Boomers were 12%. Gen Z’s perspective on diversity and connection with immigrants has major implications for immigration policy. A recent poll asked respondents if immigration either threatens American customs and values or strengthens diversity. 41% of respondents over 40 felt immigration was positive for the country while 66% of those under 24 said the same. Additionally, younger generations are the most supportive of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) with 56% in support.
A similar divergence can be seen between Gen Z and older voters when it comes to gun safety issues. While the nation and the world were shocked by the tragic Columbine shooting in 1999, Gen Z has experienced headlines like this year after year. They have lived in a world where school shooter drills are normal in schools, which may explain why 68% of Gen Z supports stricter gun regulation—more than the previous generations (55% for those over 65) according to RealClearPolitics. Students who lived through gun violence have become gun control activists, creating organizations like March for Our Lives. On the other hand, some students have also organized in support of open carry laws and Second Amendment rights. The issue of gun safety, both for and against, has become unavoidable for Gen Z.
Gen Z is also distinct in that it simply has less trust in institutions than previous generations. Young voters have lived through two of the most controversial elections in American history and two of the worst economic crises in a century. These major events have created distrust in traditional power structures and institutions. Congress, the federal government, and the police all have less than 50% trust from Gen Z. For the country as a whole, This cynicism can be seen with private sector institutions as well, with Wall Street, Silicon Valley, and the media also scoring less than 40% in trust with Gen Z. There are many reasons why each specific item has fallen in disfavor with this generation, but the connecting feature is that they are all powerful symbols of the status quo.
The youth of this generation have been disproportionately impacted by the hardships facing the country. Yet, Generation Z seeks to learn from the traumatic events of the past to improve the future. Generation Z made their voices heard at the ballot box with an unprecedented youth turnout in the 2018 and 2020 elections. While this generation will face many challenges in the future, recent history has shown that the young people of America will not be demoralized or discouraged from the news they see. Instead, they will rise to the occasion with action and advocate for their future. In that fight, they will continue to fight against institutions that have forgotten or ignored them for themselves and for future generations.
Logan Brenan is a Sophomore at George Washington University studying Political Science and Spanish. He is also a Senior Campus Ambassador for the Alliance for Citizen Engagement (ACE) and heads the Voting Rights Project. Logan has participated in political organizing in his home state of Pennsylvania, and plans to attend law school after he graduates.