Culture Wars/Current Controversies

How Gen Z Could Transform American Politics

Welcome to Invisible Divides, a series exploring the profound differences in worldview between Democrats and Republicans. These beliefs about education, religion, gender and race align with partisanship — but run much deeper. Differences like these don’t just influence the ways Democrats and Republicans vote, but also how they think about their place in America. And they help explain why opposing views on important issues today seem increasingly irreconcilable.

Julian Morein was sitting in the back room of a Hillary Clinton campaign office when he realized that Donald Trump was going to win the 2016 election. He was 17 years old, and although he was just a few months away from being able to vote, he had been spending all of his free time working to get out the vote for Clinton in his home state of Pennsylvania. “I remember everyone my age just feeling like our futures had been stolen,” he said. “The older volunteers were devastated, of course, but they weren’t as angry. For us — the younger people — we felt like the older generations had failed us. And now we were the ones who were going to have to pay.”

Six years later, Morein is out of college and working at a nonprofit in Philadelphia. He’s voted in every major election since he turned 18. He’s part of a generation of new voters who became adults in the shadow of the 2016 election. And according to an August FiveThirtyEight/PerryUndem/YouGov survey of likely voters,1 politics is especially personal for Generation Z.

The youngest generation of voters is more likely than older groups to vote for Democrats — but it also has a much more radical view of how the country should address long-standing problems. According to our survey and others, voters ages 18 to 292 are more likely than any other cohort — even those only a decade or two older — to say that abortion should always be legal,3 that racism and racial inequality are big problems in the U.S.4 and that they favored dramatic moves to undo injustices of the past, like cash payments to descendants of enslaved people.5 What’s more, many young Americans have told us that they feel compelled to vote because their values and goals feel so at odds with the people controlling the levers of power.


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