CONTRIBUTORS

Young people are more energized to vote than ever before

Victor Shi
Chicago Tribune (TNS)
Diego Garcia, 18, gives instructions before young voters head inside the Gage Park Fieldhouse to vote, some for the first time, in the Illinois primary election on March 14, 2020, in Chicago. (John J. Kim/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

I am part of a generation — Generation Z — that has a faint recollection of 9/11, if any at all. We weren’t even teenagers during the 2008 recession. And ever since, our lives have been slammed by a series of seemingly never-ending tribulations.

We grew up living in constant fear of gun violence. We worry about the state of our planet because of delayed action on climate change. We are still struggling due to the impact COVID-19 has had on social interactions and education.

Yet, we have also been a generation deeply hungry for something different. Something that deviates from the traditional systems that have contributed to the problems we grew up confronting. Something that shows us we matter in this political system. And despite often being overlooked, we have never been afraid to use our voices to effect change.

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A different election: But whereas our drive to imagine a better reality may usually occur by taking to social media or protesting on the streets — and still does — I am now seeing something else. Young people are more politically energized than I have ever seen. Young people are registering to vote, and they’re saying they will vote in November.

Given historical turnout rates among young people, the increased willingness of Generation Z to vote may cause skepticism. Indeed, although turnout among young people improved in 2018 and again in 2020, our rates did not match that of older generations.

However, there are two strong indications the 2022 midterm elections will be different. First, more of my peers realize the extent to which the Republican Party has compounded and only made worse the problems in our lives. And second, Democrats and President Joe Biden are showing young people that we are heard, seen and valued — both through their recent legislative victories and how they are engaging with young people.

More than ever before, the contrast between how the Republican and Democratic parties serve young people could not be starker. Over the last year, Republicans appeared to target and anger one demographic in particular: young people.

For instance, Republicans in Florida, Ohio and Louisiana introduced bills that would severely limit or ban LGBTQ expression in classrooms. Republicans are also curtailing other rights that young people grew up with, chief among them being abortion. With the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and over 20 states further restricting the ability to access safe and legal abortions, it is becoming clearer to my peers that Republicans do not represent our interests.

Not representing us: In the same vein, Republicans continue to show more of their true colors to young people with every vote they take in Congress. On nearly every issue that Gen Z cares about, Republicans have voted against them. A majority of Republicans voted against reforming our nation’s gun laws. Every Republican voted against the largest investment in fighting climate change. And all Republicans refuse to protect reproductive rights by voting against the codification of Roe v. Wade into law.

On the other hand, the Democratic Party is finally showing that they are delivering on the issues that matter most to young people and including us in the conversation. Take three actions Democrats and President Biden accomplished recently: passing historic legislation on fighting climate change, reforming gun laws, and forgiving student loans. These are all issues that young people have fought for our entire lives — and seeing Democrats achieve action on them shows us that our voices can, and do, make a difference.

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Democrats are also doing more to reach my peers. Shortly before Biden announced his decision to forgive student loans, the White House hosted a virtual new conference with young influencers on TikTok and other social media platforms. Not only is this the first time the White House has engaged in such an outreach strategy, but it indicates Democrats and Biden know that the best way to sell their message to young people is by investing in messengers who look like us and regularly appear on our social media feeds.

The increasingly clear differences between both parties are not just causing a shift of opinions among young people. They are also mobilizing and motivating young people across the nation to vote in November. It is no secret that President Biden’s approval ratings among young people haven’t been strong since taking office. One poll released earlier this year revealed that youth support for Biden decreased by nearly 20 points between the spring of 2021 and spring 2022.

Rising approvalBut the latest figures following the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act and action on forgiving student loans show a 10% increase in approval ratings among those under the age of 30. Now, 60% of young people approve of President Biden’s performance. Notably, this is the highest approval rating among young people during any point in his presidency, a strong reflection that Democrats are resonating with young people.

Beyond public opinion, young people are proactively taking steps to ensure that they vote in November. Especially in the wake of the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, more young people are registering to vote. Consider a state like Texas: Nearly 30% of all newly registered voters came from those under the age of 25. This number has steadily increased since the decision in Dobbs, and will likely continue increasing given the sustained attacks on abortion rights by Republicans and Democratic successes.

We are a generation that seeks change. With the current state of American politics, it appears that my peers and I are going to show up at the ballot box in November in record-breaking numbers. And there seems to be nothing that will stop us from doing so.

— Victor Shi, a junior at the University of California at Los Angeles, co-hosts the “iGen Politics” podcast.