Coming soon: candidate advertisements blanketing the airwaves, political signs planted on lawns, robocalls extolling the campaign promises of the latest contenders for elected office.
Yes, the 2024 presidential election year is on the horizon. And with Generation Z making up the whole of the 18- to 24-year-old voting bloc, it’s worthwhile to consider how this generation of young adults will shape the outcome of elections up and down the ticket.
Associate Provost for Student Success Diann Cameron Kelly, PhD, who was previously a faculty member of the Adelphi University School of Social Work since 2002, has always been interested in youth and their engagement in society. She recently published “Inspiring Gen Z Voters to Participate in Voting and Volunteering” in Advances in Applied Sociology to examine the characteristics of this unique generation and the best ways to reach them for civic engagement.
“I find Gen Zers to be a remarkable generation and resilient because they came of age during the pandemic and had many of their rites of passage, like graduation and prom, derailed,” Dr. Kelly said. “Social media played a significant role in this generation not losing connections—they had to think about ‘togetherness’ and ‘connections’ differently and they emerged from the pandemic a thoughtful, resilient generation.”
Getting Out the Gen Z Vote
Dr. Kelly’s research shares that Gen Z is a diverse generation that tends toward progressive and social justice-minded principles. Though they may care deeply about social causes they are interested in, she said that they must have an affinity for a political candidate in order to become electorally engaged. In other words, their vote means something to them, and they need to believe that the person they are voting for represents their values.
“Politicians have to be authentic and real—Gen Zers can see through the veneer, and desire honesty above all,” she said.
Social justice may be at the top of their agenda, but according to Dr. Kelly’s literature review, they also care deeply about unity, climate change and racial justice. Because women and minority candidates often embrace these causes, Gen Z tends to get behind electoral hopefuls who fall into these categories.
According to Dr. Kelly, Gen Zers find social media and intimate town halls that speak to issues they care about to be the most significant forms of outreach, and it’s important to come to these forums with a dynamic and resonant message. However, she said, they are not a monolithic group. “What interests young people in urban centers may not interest those in suburbia or rural America. All politics are local.”
Social Media as a Campaign Tool
Gen Zers are “digital natives”—many can’t remember a time before smartphones and social media. According to a 2022 Morning Consult survey, more than half say they spend at least four hours a day on social media: YouTube, Instagram, TikTok and Snapchat.
Dr. Kelly’s article shares that many of the values that Gen Zers hold dear emerge from their interaction with social media, and that to move them, they must be catered to with meaningful anecdotes and data that resonate with their ideals.
“Leaders need to pivot their message to speak to them with an emphasis on their purpose, connectivity and information,” she said. “This generation is not easily swayed from their existing ideals, so they need concrete information to consider alternatives.”
Gen Z and the Future of Politics
Though Dr. Kelly sees Gen Zers as having a significant impact on the political landscape, she cites a line from a Pew Research Center article to convey that the characteristics of a generation may evolve over time: “Gen Zers will no doubt walk differently in the world by 2050, just as today’s baby boomers are different from their younger selves.”
Still, she has no doubt that Gen Zers will have an impact on issues they currently champion, like climate change policies and environmental justice. And no matter their political party affiliation, this generation wants their politicians to represent them with integrity, honor and wisdom.
“Gen Zers have the opportunity to make their mark on our society. What they need is guidance to have a meaningful, purposeful life,” said Dr. Kelly. “What they contribute to society is their generation’s gift.”