Overwhelmingly, the words Republican and Democrat leave a bad taste in youthful mouths. Gen Z filters politics with a cynical sieve and spits out anything with a hint of establishment.
Yet, Gen Z voted in record numbers this midterm election. Young people believe in political and social change, perhaps with more fervor than the youth of previous generations.
America elected its first Gen Z Representative last week, Florida’s twenty-five-year-old Max Frost. President Biden called and personally congratulated him. Frost is a Democrat, but not all Gen Z politicians are progressive: Trump understudy Karoline Leavitt, also twenty-five, ran this season in New Hampshire, although she lost.
Gen Z with Millennials will become the largest voting bloc in 2024 (PDF).
So, how does Gen Z vote, and what role did they play in the 2022 midterm elections?
Gen Z is skeptical
Most Gen Z Americans don’t remember when smartphones didn’t exist. They were born in the late ’90s and early 2000s. They navigate modern politics with internet savvy and social media prowess, and the internet reveals the darkness in humanity, upending scandals and hypocrisy in every corner of politics.
While Millennials seemed generally optimistic (Harry Potter acted as a cultural touchpoint where good overcomes evil), wariness defines Gen Z. They relate more to dystopian stories like The Hunger Games and Divergent. They are “not altogether clear on what evils need defeating.” Fewer than one in ten trust media “a lot.” Less than one in five say they trust public education or the US government.
Gen Z breaks stereotypes
Young people like myself often stalwartly keep an open mind to conservative and progressive ideas alike.
Politico highlighted a young conservative activist named Coreco Ja’Quan who believes the Democrats failed African Americans. Politico writes, “For a young Black man like Pearson, skepticism trumps loyalty to the [Democratic] party of his parents and grandparents.”
Or consider how the BBC highlights one twenty-six-year-old pro-life Democrat who says, “With all these other social justice issues . . . I realized that they all go hand in hand as, if we as a society respect life before birth, then we will respect life after birth.”
The Springtide Research Institute found that Gen Z is fairly spiritual, but they have “unbundled” faiths. This means they usually don’t take the whole package of religious practices, beliefs, and traditions part and parcel. Instead, they mix and match.
We observe the same pattern in politics.
Gen Z might surprise you. People rightly characterize Gen Z as liberal, but Donald Trump won a decent swath of their support in 2016. So did Bernie Sanders. Dr. Jean M. Twenge points out those disparate candidates shared something in common: “Both are political independents.”
Gen Z is independent
While it’s true that Gen Z mostly leans progressive, in 2020 about half of young Biden voters considered themselves voting against Trump rather than for Biden. Last week, many argued that Trump lost the proxy 2024 war in Republican territory.
Permit a Gen Zer’s speculation on what happened to MAGA support. The young Trump voter may have originally seen him as an antiestablishment candidate. But by 2020, they may have associated him with a kind of corrupter and insider of the Republican establishment. The “stolen election” narrative and bombastic rhetoric likely also pushed Gen Z away.
Half of Gen Z identifies as independent. Nearly half say, “There is no party which represents their views reasonably well.” They certainly lean progressive, but it’s difficult to say whether that’s merely because they’re young. (Older people, regardless of the cohort, tend to become more conservative over time.)
Gen Z is a paradox. They show:
- radical uncertainty and pessimism alongside optimism and activism,
- unprecedented anxiety and depression alongside emotional awareness,
- and moral relativism alongside compassion and strong social concern.
The easiest way to offend Gen Z is by putting them in a box.
Who’s surprised that they’re independent?
Did Gen Z vote for Democrats or the GOP in the 2022 midterms?
On abortion, around 65 percent were motivated to vote to protect abortion access (although an ABC exit poll put it at 45 percent). About 70 percent of young people believe abortion should be legal in “all or most cases” and only 30 percent believe abortion is morally wrong.
Only 45 percent of young people view capitalism positively, versus 51 percent who view socialism positively. Gen Z still seems to view small businesses highly. Their feelings about capitalism probably arise from rising wealth inequality, perceived corruption in corporations, environmental concerns, and the market’s expanding monopolies.
Nearly four out of five young people express care for environmental causes, whether they lean conservative or liberal. Young conservatives are more likely to recognize lingering racial injustices as an issue in America.
In the 2022 midterms last week, preliminary results from exit polls say that 61 percent voted for Democratic candidates while 36 percent voted for the GOP.
What does Gen Z believe?
In 2020, the Pew Research Center said they believe that Gen Z’s political beliefs will follow Millennials pretty closely. So far, the mainstream media believes that Gen Z contributed to holding back the “red wave” that Democrats feared.
While Gen Z seems fragile and unable to offend or take offense, they are highly open (sometimes to a fault). A promising characteristic of Gen Z is their willingness to part with the constricting two-party, partisan manner of thinking.
Splitting generations into cohorts is a largely arbitrary business. Pointing out the “60 percent” neglects the “40 percent,” and vice versa. Statistics and surveys can only show so much. Add another layer of interpretation to those already self-reported studies and people find what answers they want (or maybe that’s just my cynical Gen Z-ness speaking).
Gen Z looks hopeful
We see many young people openly, compassionately ready to talk about the issues. Perhaps one conclusion we can draw is this: Gen Z draws their politics from their identity, not the other way around.
It’s true that fewer of them hold to a biblical worldview, but it’s also true that this state forces Gen Z believers to reject cultural, surface-level Christianity.
We can thank God for that and hope they can subvert our country’s bloody, partisan blight.
Their spirituality and openness, alongside cynicism and authenticity, make them a ripe harvest for the gospel (Matthew 9:37).
To all Gen Z in Christ, we should listen to Paul’s exhortation: “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12).
For more on Gen Z, see:
- What does Gen Z value? 4 truths about what they believe
- The Denison Forum Podcast: Digging into doubts and how to minister to Gen Z: A conversation with Barnabas Piper
- Confused by teens? 4 surprising ways Gen Z behaves