How Gen Z Might Impact the 2020 Election

Mary Dooe
Mar 17, 2021

Younger generations, election after election, tend to not always turn out in large numbers. 2020 could be different. Let's look at the numbers.  

The demographics

There are several things that stand out about Gen Z in particular as a voting body:
  • For starters, this generation will make up about 1 in 10 eligible voters in the 2020 presidential election.
  • This group of voters is more diverse than older generations, with just 55% of the eligible voters in this age group being non-Hispanic white.
  • The share of these voters who are Hispanic, at 22%, is higher than for other generations like Millennials, Gen X, or Baby Boomers.
  • This generation has also been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. While earlier this year, they were looking at historically low levels of unemployment, the crisis has changed that.
  • They are also among the most educated generation and tend to see societal change as a good thing.
  • Only three in ten eligible Gen Z voters took part in the 2018 midterm election - but since then more people have hit voting age, and turnout tends to be higher in presidential years

A well educated generation

Among some of the most interesting trends with Gen Z is just how educated they are as a group.   For many, it starts with parents. According to recent data, over 4 in 10 members of Gen Z live with at least 1 parent who has at least a Bachelor's degree. That's compared to only about 32% of millennials living with at least one parent with a higher-ed degree (measured around the same age).   That means that during this election, of the 18 to 21 year olds in this cohort who were no longer in high school, a full 57% of them are enrolled in either a two or four year higher education program. This group is also less likely to drop out of high school than earlier generations.   We know from other studies that a higher level of education, at either the college or graduate level, makes someone more likely to align with the Democratic Party, and also be more likely to care about issues such as inequality and climate change.  

Most important issues

Many people in this generation tend to have similar views as Millennials when it comes to politics.   This generation, born after 1996, tends to be in favor of government intervention, and relatively progressive. They see the growing diversity in the country as a positive thing.   Interestingly, Gen Z is also less likely to think of the U.S. as superior to other countries around the world.   Among the issues that are most concerning to this group? Climate change and racial equality, especially in light of this year's events. In fact, even among Gen Z individuals who identify as Republican or Republican-leaning, they are more likely than older Republicans to recognize racial injustice and inequality, and more likely to believe that the world is getting warmer due to human activities.   Gen Z is also invested in voting in favor of LGBTQ+ rights, and are drawn to more diverse candidates that reflect the population as a whole.   According to some research, this generation is also deeply committed to voting.  

Social media and the election

More so even than Millennials, Gen Z was raised on digital technology and social media. Even before this current presidential election cycle, this generation was using social media platforms like TikTok to organize politically.   So much so, that TikTok, a social networking giant, has also now rolled out an elections guide within the app. App users have also launched a major voter registration campaign to get more Gen Zers involved in the election.   Just as Facebook and Twitter had a major impact in previous elections, Gen Z's platform of choice could make a big splash in 2020, despite the White House trying to tamp down on TikTok's growth - owned by a Chinese company - earlier this year.  

Impacting outcomes

Most polling shows that this generation is more likely to vote for former Vice President Joe Biden than current sitting President Donald Trump.   Many Gen Z'ers think that Biden's policies don't go far left enough, which could be a complicating factor.   Early and mail in voting is in full effect, but we will need to wait until Election Day to see what kind of impact the generation will truly have, and much of that will depend on how many show up at the polls (or their local mailbox!)