Gen Z Will Save the Future, But Only If They Vote
How digital tactics and thoughtful messaging can drive youth to the ballot box
The highest youth voter turnout in recent years was in 2020 when 51.4% of 18–24 year-olds cast their ballots. For many of them, this was their first time voting, and they voted because they were told that this election was the most important election of their lives. But Roe v. Wade was still overturned. The dangerous Supreme Court decision led to Democrats urging pro-choice supporters to vote. Now, young people question whether they should vote at all (spoiler alert: the answer is yes, always vote!)
Framing voting as something we do only when Democracy is on the brink of destruction leads to inconsistent voter turnout, and frustration if election results don’t go your way. Voting should be a habit — it is an action everyone must take during every election, because every election matters.
So how do we convince young people that a thriving democracy depends on them going to the polls, regularly?
We know we need to reach Gen Z where they are — online platforms like TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube. Over half of Gen Z consumers are on TikTok. 60% of Gen Z check Instagram and YouTube daily. 85% of Gen Z teens use YouTube. Each of these channels prioritizes highly visual content, which is ideal for sharing educational information in creative ways.
We also know that Gen Z is more likely to accept messages if they come from someone they already follow and trust. 80% of Gen Z follow at least one influencer on social media. We already know how effective it is when a celebrity endorses a candidate (don’t forget Beyonce’s impact when she posted on IG wearing Beto merch in 2018!) Influencers are proving to be even more effective than celebrities as spokespeople. 50% of millennials and Gen Z trust influencers for product recommendations (versus 32% who trust celebrities).
However, knowing where and how to reach Gen Z is not enough. We need to convince Gen Z to not only vote this November, but to see voting as a valuable, lifelong practice that is just the tip of the civic engagement iceberg.
Creating relatable content
One candidate who is doing a great job connecting with young people through the type of content he posts is U.S. Senate-hopeful from Pennsylvania, John Fetterman. Fetterman’s opponent Dr. Oz does not even live in Pennsylvania — he’s been a resident of New Jersey for three decades. While Fetterman travels across the state meeting voters in person, his campaign roasts the Republican nominee, Dr. Oz, on social media through memes. Fetterman’s campaign even enlisted Jersey Shore icon Snooki to record a video addressing Dr. Oz, telling him to stay in New Jersey.
This messaging goes beyond politicians. Amanda Seales, a comedian with 1.9 M followers on Instagram, has been posting reels where she breaks down anti-abortion laws. The popular meme account Saint Hoax, which has a hefty 3.2 M followers, posts a mix of pop culture and political memes. Both accounts can serve as examples of how to engage with young audiences by drawing them in with cultural content and educating them on political issues in bite-size pieces.
Framing it as a movement, not a moment
As Lin Manuel Miranda said in Hamilton, “this is not a moment, it’s a movement.”
The media’s focus on national races draws focus from critical statewide and local races. Roe was overturned because the state legislature in Mississippi drafted a state law that made its way to the Supreme Court. Ohio — a state that voted for Obama in 2012 — passed a law that bans abortion after six weeks.
Can we really blame young people for not voting in local and state elections when only 37% of all voters know the name of their U.S. Representative? That number is significantly smaller for state and local politicians.
Our problems don’t end when the person we voted for takes office. We have to flood hundreds of thousands of offices across the country with progressive lawmakers for generations to come. That means we have to prepare the next generation. If we tap into the platforms Gen Z visits and trusts to deliver short videos about the roles that state and local government bodies play from our everyday lives to Supreme Court decisions, we could set the stage to increase our turnout from the 51.4% of young people who voted in 2020.
Voting Benefits and Strengthens Community
Social media doesn’t just educate us, it has the power to connect us. We can use these connections to bring people together in the real world. In fact, grassroots organizations have been mobilizing through social media since the 2010s. Teachers used Facebook groups to strike in 2018, and Black Lives Matter uses social media to organize online and offline, while simultaneously increasing public awareness. Smaller teacher and BLM communities already existed in the real world, but social media showed them how powerful they could be if they all took action. Targeting individuals and existing grassroots organizations online with toolkits, materials, and resources needed to organize voters is not only a way to increase voter turnout, but also a way to connect young people to like-minded individuals. We have the chance to help Gen Z connect online through grassroots digital tactics and connect offline, too. Who says voting can’t be a group activity?
Gen Z is our future. It’s up to all of us to make sure young people have the information needed to become civically engaged leaders of the world. So let’s get to work.
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