As the Thanksgiving holiday approaches, it’s refreshing to focus on what we are grateful for, especially as some days it can feel like the world is in a tailspin.
But this year, it feels like more than simple gratefulness — it feels like hope. Thanks to an unexpected demographic shift in voting trends over recent years, the very group of people who are most impacted by today’s plights are the ones we just might have to be hopeful about: young voters.
For this bloc of voters, today’s issues are not abstract. Whether it’s forgoing having children out of fear that they will not be better off, or joking about moving to Canada to avoid medical bankruptcy, this generation is clear-eyed about their challenges.
They acknowledge that buying a home may forever be out of reach, and that human rights are being rolled back faster than the price tags at a Walmart.
They also know they will have to accept irreversible climate change as part of the deal.
Despite these very real challenges, Gen Z and Millennials have often been mocked for being too sensitive and entitled. They also get told they don’t vote, but data does not support this claim.
Although it is true that young voters turn out at lower rates as compared to their older counterparts in the same election, young voters are actually far more politically engaged than prior generations when compared historically — and they have been for decades.
In other words, young voters are cranking out the vote at far higher rates than Gen X or Boomers when compared at the same age. In recent election cycles, this has been enough to help close the gates on the so-called red wave.
According to one senior researcher at a public opinion research firm, Gen Z has continued to sustain a record–breaking turnout from 2018 midterm elections, marking a 289% increase in raw vote totals from 2016 to 2018 — numbers that smash Boomer turnout from their day. With 2022 elections under our belt, this now marks multiple back-to-back election cycles where youth political engagement has far outperformed expectations.
These trends hold great promise in further advancing America. Exit polls from AP VoteCast and Edison Research for the 2022 elections show young voters — especially Gen Z — overwhelmingly reject today’s Republican anti-democratic efforts while strongly supporting social justice issues.
This should come as no surprise given Gen Z is more diverse than any other generation in American history with nearly half of Gen Z being non-white, compared to Boomers who were only 18% non-white.
In combination, for the first time in a long time, I, a Millennial, can finally see an increasing likelihood that America may be able to avoid what has seemed like the inevitable descent into further chaos and actually work to overcome the threats that have plagued us for far too long.
Tides are turning. We now have the first Gen Z member of Congress. Younger rates of voting will likely continue to increase. Diversity will become the majority.
In combination, this means an increasing priority on dire issues such as wealth inequality, climate change and human rights. It also likely means a firm rejection of Republican extremism for the foreseeable future.
Although recent years have been marred by tumultuous times, the possibility of a brighter future for America — thanks to the promise of young voters — is one of the many things I am thankful for this holiday season.
As I see it, at this American table our duty is not to appease those who came before us, it will be to leave the nation a better place for those who come after us.
Trish Zornio is a scientist, lecturer and writer who has worked at some of the nation’s top universities and hospitals. She’s an avid rock climber and was a 2020 candidate for the U.S. Senate in Colorado. Trish can be found on Twitter @trish_zornio
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