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Issue focused, info-hungry, and reliant on social media: New report gives more context about young voters in the 2022 midterms
Research out today from the Walton Family Foundation, Murmuration, and Social Sphere sheds light on young Americans' attitudes around politics, civic engagement, and voting.
Immediately after the midterms, I traveled to cities across the country and talked with young Americans as part of a research project with the Walton Family Foundation and Murmuration, an education advocacy nonprofit.
Our conversations were part of a multi-pronged approach to better understand young Americans attitudes around politics, civic engagement, and voting in the 2022 midterm elections, and accompanied a new report out today from the Walton Family Foundation, Murmuration, and Social Sphere — the research firm founded by John Della Volpe, director of polling at the Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics and author of FIGHT: How Gen Z is Channeling Their Fear & Passion to Save America.
The report includes exit polls, focus groups with voters and non-voters, and a national survey.
Overall, the research shows that young people:
are motivated by a specific slate of issues; namely access to reproductive healthcare (29% listed abortion/women’s rights as the issue driving them to the polls)
are struggling with their mental health — but are tuning in, not out
crave more info about who and what are on their ballot
get their news via social media, especially YouTube (61%), TikTok (57%), and Instagram (51%)
have political alliances that aren’t set in stone (younger generations reported weaker party affiliations than their older counterparts)
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As Moore reports, while young voters supported Democrats this fall, “a potential lack of party identity leaves hope for Republicans. Notably, just 30% of Gen Zers surveyed said they aligned with Democrats, compared to 24% for Republicans and 28% for independents.”
"The Democrats don't own these votes. They're renting them," Republican political strategist John Brabender told her. "There still is an open door, and I think there is both a want from these voters to hear more, but that door is not going to be open forever."
Still want more? Check out my ‘Dispatch from the Road,’ which accompanied the report:
‘If we don’t do it, then who will?’: A Dispatch from the Road
A more united country. Improved mental health. No gun violence. Less judgment. Affordable housing. A livable climate. Racial justice. Reproductive rights.
In listening sessions with young Americans across the country – from Fort Collins, Colorado to Boston, Massachusetts, Dover, Delaware, Miami, Florida, and Atlanta, Georgia – these aspirations were repeated again, and again, and again.
Young Americans have advocated for a better future throughout history, and Gen Z is no different. But a unique set of circumstances and a hyper-polarized country have informed the slate of issues our generation cares about most and the collective belief that the need for change is urgent.
In conversations across the country, students shared similar perspectives that as a result of generations of inaction, today’s issues are too obvious and too personal to ignore. In turn, despite the pressure of social media and concerns over mental health, the young people we met in these five cities said they’re tuning in.
“I feel like we have all come into the age of adulthood, like 18, 19, 20, in this very political climate… and I think that has made us all feel like we can really relate – with abortion rights, even gay rights, it feels very personal to us,” said a student organizer in Atlanta.
“Because we’re seeing it at the forefront, it does feel personal to us and we feel like we could be affected. So then we go back and we canvass because like, if we don’t do it, then who will? Because it hasn’t been done thus far. So it’s now or never.”
Born just before or right after 9/11, Gen Z came of age during a period of conflict. We’re accustomed to lockdown drills, extreme weather, attended school on Zoom amid a global pandemic, and we’re the first generation in 50 years without the federal right to an abortion.
While the frequency of these tragedies can have a numbing effect, it’s virtually impossible to ignore the never ending newscycle with our cell phones in hand and the constant ping of the likes, comments, and breaking news alerts that come with push notifications. Social media has heightened our sense of awareness and enhanced our ability to organize – online, in the streets, and at the polls.
And yet – while our conversations centered around a palpable frustration with issues from gun violence to cancel culture, when it came to talking about electoral politics, even for those who voted, many of the young people we spoke with described a sense of disillusionment with today’s political climate.
Some said they were too busy to vote in the 2022 midterm elections. A few said they couldn’t bring themselves to vote because they don’t think it makes any difference. Others described feeling as though they don’t fit into either bucket of our country’s binary political system, rejecting the labels that come with “Democrat” or “Republican” and the assumption that just because you choose one party, you automatically hate the other.
One day after the Georgia Senate runoff, a student organizer in Atlanta said she’s more focused on the tangible issues affecting her community – gun violence, college affordability, housing – than party politics.
“There’s a lot of talk about democracy that I think falls flat for our generation,” she said. “Party is just something I check on a box when I go to vote. But otherwise, even though I do so much political work, I don’t really consider it.”
The same was true for a young woman at Miami Dade College who said that while she sees older generations sticking to political allegiances, “[For] young people [there’s] less predisposition to vote for one party or another. It’s more so just issues that matter to me personally.”
Despite being turned off by politics and partisanship, echo chambers and polarization, today’s youngest members of the electorate are taking localized civic action to push back against the problems afflicting their communities.
Regardless of geography or identity, the students we spoke with were keenly aware of the issues facing their communities and how these challenges are impacting their emotional wellbeing. Almost all said that in response to violence, injustice, and discrimination, they’ve attended a march or rally, created an issue or identity focused group at their school or in their community or volunteered. Some went so far to say that pushing for change on these issues is dire.
Gen Z is certainly not a monolith. And yet, according to our conversations, growing impatient with the compounding crises and both political parties’ lack of resolve to solve them, our generation is stepping up in our communities, often using technology and social media to engage – from politics, to education, and media.
“I’m not angry, I’m frustrated,” said a student at Delaware State University. “Personally, there’s a lot going on. The world’s corrupt. We know that. We get it. But what are we going to do to move forward?”
Fed up with a lack of representation in the media coupled with mis- and disinformation, she’s a content creator focused on highlighting previously untold stories across history.
While we’re jaded, we’re also empowered.
“My teacher told me, ‘You have to stop waiting for a hero.’ Sometimes you have to put your foot forward and take the action yourself. Because if you’re waiting for someone to save you, you’re gonna burn,” said a young woman in Miami. “And that’s what I’m trying to do.”
For those who read the takeaways along the way, thanks for following along. Heard about the project today and want to learn more? Please reach out!