Lina studies in the War Studies department
The U.S. Midterms in 2022 were predicted to be a “Red Wave.” Experts and news outlets were certain Americans would vote abundantly Republican for Congress, making the democratic President’s job much more difficult since the executive and legislative branches of government must work together to agree on which bills and laws to pass. Whilst the spirit of bipartisanship is constantly hailed by politicians, in reality it leads to weak compromises that do not result in effective legislation. After 9/11, Congress passed the Patriot Act, meant to improve deterrence and detection of terrorism, in 98-1 vote with a 5 year re-evaluation period. Once the time came to re-evaluate, the seemingly bipartisan legislature faced increased criticism from the Republican Party which attempted to block its passage for over a year. Later, Congress was able to pass the Patriot Act and USA Freedom Act with provision and modifications to appease the opposition from the Republican Party, according to Paige Rotunda at the Wilson Center. While the bipartisan legislature passed swiftly in the face of the crisis, neither were fully satisfied with the reaction to the crisis at hand.
For this reason, Gen Z have increasingly taken it upon themselves to vote for politicians that are not only representative of the demographic makeup of the country, but also voting for politicians who have shown they will influence policy that the voters are passionate about. Polls suggesting a high Republican voter turnout during the midterms last summer did not take Gen Z into consideration. More importantly, they were severely underestimated.
Gen Z Voter turnout helped avoid a flip of the Senate that stayed majority Democrat. A Tufts University analysis showed that 18-29 year olds voter turnout in the recent midterms showed a pronounced shift to Democratic leadership which was amplified by a rise in voter turnout when compared to pre-2018 elections. Voter turnout is a term used to describe how many of the registered voters show up to the actual elections. While many voters answer polls and give an accurate estimate of the election turnout, it is up to pollsters to decide what voter demographic they poll, often leading to false election predictions. Especially with young voters, the likelihood that they will turn out the vote at a midterm election is low causing pollsters to discount their influence. For this reason, U.S. news and polls were dumbfounded with the results of the midterm elections in 2022.
Samantha Cherry from the Washington Post brings up an interesting argument to explain this phenomenon. She contends that Gen Z is more likely to vote based on issues they are passionate about instead of a political party affiliation. If you live in the 10th congressional district of Florida and looked at the ballot for 2022 you would have seen Maxwell Frost. Upon looking into him further, you would find he was the organising director for March for Our Lives, an anti-gun violence movement that was started after the school shooting in Parkland Florida. In the 2022 Midterm elections, he was elected and became one of the youngest politicians to ever be elected and the first Gen Z member of Congress. When Gen Z sees a candidate passionate about a political issue that they relate to and that candidate is actively pursuing those issues, they feel their vote will make the difference they want, explaining the rise in women and people of colour elected.
The lack of affiliation to either the Democratic or Republican parties becomes more visible by the defeat of Representative Sean Patrick Maloney, the chair of the Democratic National Campaign Committee. Maloney is seen as a complacent politician who does “the bare minimum,” which does not appeal to the younger voters who are motivated by candidates who prove their commitment to the issues that matter most to Gen Z, such as “climate change, gun violence, reproductive rights, racial injustice and LGBTQ+ rights.”
Gillian Brooks, Lecturer of Strategic Marketing at King’s College London, said Gen Z are less likely to trust authority figures or institutions, from politicians to traditional news media. This translates to a different approach to voting, since we require concrete evidence that the politicians we elect will fight for the things we believe in. Another big influence on the voting patterns of Gen Z is social media. Much of the younger generation receives their news and information about the world from social media platforms such as Twitter, Instagram and TikTok. Most recently, a new kind of influencer has emerged: the political influencer. Content creators that are specifically geared towards giving information on the politicians in their area that stand out to them and speak to their interests, identities and beliefs. Many Gen Zers follow creators that are “relatable” and will be influenced by those creators in minuscule ways, such as what to eat for breakfast, but also in more influential ways, such as their political affiliations and votes.
Of course, this is not to say that a creator can say anything and their followers will blindly follow. However, it does speak to what kind of politicians are being brought to the forefront. One example is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the Democratic Representative of the 14th District of New York. Over the past few years, Ocasio-Cortez, or AOC as she’s known online, has become a spokesperson for the views of the younger generation. She participates in women’s marches and is extremely vocal about her beliefs. Gen Z gravitate towards her because they feel silenced as the younger generation and are now finding candidates that are willing to make strides and break the mould for, what tend to be, more liberal views. While AOC is a prime example of this trend for Gen Z to rally behind politicians online, she is not the only politician Gen Z follow. Of course, not all of Gen Z is in agreement regarding the political beliefs they align with. Gen Z may have leant towards the left in this election, but there were also Republican candidates that Gen Z helped elect during the Midterms, showing that the generation align themselves with issues, as opposed to political parties. I have talked to students who believe AOC is too radically left for their tastes and I have talked to others who wish their country or district had a candidate on the ballot who was more like her. The beliefs Gen Z aligns itself with aren’t universal – everyone has their own opinion – however, the framework that is used to vote is extremely similar. Of course, they are still the youth vote, which means there is a higher rate of apathy and ignorance towards politics. But in comparison to previous generations, those voting have a unique approach and are making a significant difference in their elections.
This trend can be seen across the world. Gen Z is making its mark on politics. In Germany, the SPD and CDU, which have historically been the dominant political parties, are struggling to get the youth vote on board with their agendas. Pollsters attribute this to voter fatigue but it reflects the views of Gillian Brooks; that younger voters are disillusioned by big, established parties, preferring smaller groups that stand for change on issues such as climate and social justice as well as freer markets and personal liberties. Bojan Pancevski from the Wall Street Journal reports that 44% of voters under 35 picked the Greens or Free Democrats in Germany’s election, which are smaller, lesser known political parties.
The mark Gen Z is beginning to leave on the political representation in their respective countries, focusing on the U.S. in this article, is only the beginning. As more of our generation become eligible to vote it is imperative that the tangible difference your vote can make is seen. Often, there is a misconception that your vote does not influence politics if you are not in the majority of your area. However, with these recent elections the significance of your vote is put on display and, hopefully, inspires more of us to go to the polls on Election Day.