Gen Z has witnessed some of the most significant events in recent political history in the past six years, many of which have influenced the issues they will prioritize in this upcoming midterm election.
Being the most racially and ethnically diverse generation ever, Gen Z represents a wide variety of voices that demand to be listened to by elected officials. Reeling from the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the ongoing climate crisis, and the epidemic of gun violence, Gen Z is sick and tired of government inactivity, and many of them are taking their dissatisfaction to the polls.
According to an exit poll from the 2020 general election, the majority of Gen Z voters voted Democratic. Young voters also leaned Democratic in the 2018 midterms — even more so than in the 2020 election — which means that their voting bloc could make or break a candidate’s chances of winning this November. When it comes to gaining the support of Gen Z voters, social issues are a priority, as many of them are looking for broad reforms to rectify the policy mishaps of the previous administration. Here are the five most important issues that Gen Z will have on the forefront of their minds during the 2022 midterms.
- Reproductive justice
Following the extremely controversial overturning of Roe v. Wade by a conservative-majority Supreme Court, Gen Z has made it clear that they care about reproductive rights and will vote accordingly. According to a Gallup poll, the percentage of people ages 18 to 24 that identify as pro-choice rose from 55% to 67% between May 2021 and May 2022, a portion that is significantly higher than any other age group. Especially since many members of Gen Z are growing up and becoming sexually active, having access to safe, confidential, and legal reproductive healthcare resources such as condoms, Plan B, and abortions could have a huge impact on their lives. Young people are becoming increasingly aware of their needs, and what kinds of policies they want to be implemented.
Ashley Colatarci, 18, a freshman at George Washington University, describes how access to birth control could provide more options for those who have been sexually assaulted. She says, “I want to vote for people who would back my children if that [sexual assault] ever happened to them.”
The power of social media has also brought youth to the forefront of pro-choice movements. Although sharing infographics and links aren’t necessarily the most impactful ways to advocate for policy changes, they’ve done wonders in spreading (sometimes inaccurate) information and increasing awareness of social issues. After all, young people have been protesting in front of the Supreme Court, donating to abortion funds, fighting for access to contraception on college campuses, and much more — it’s a no-brainer that they’re going to bring the same energy to the voting booths.
- Sustainability & climate change
Climate change is, to say the least, a major concern of Gen Z. Just look at rising global temperatures, the rapid deterioration of habitats worldwide, the impending food crises due to drought and threat of coastal flooding, the increase of deathly pathogens, and the spread of climate anxiety. Having to wake up without the guarantee of a liveable planet is contributing to a global and generational movement to mitigate the consequences of global warming.
Gen Z believes that the government should take action to use alternative energy sources, use less fossil fuels, phase out the use of gas-powered vehicles, and avoid offshore oil and gas drilling much more than the average adult, and 67% of them consider climate change one of the greatest social priorities, according to a 2021 report by the Pew Research Center. Many young people are driving change in their own communities, helping out with food pantries and advocating for sustainability on their college campuses. Others are making sure that they pick careers that actively fight the climate crisis.
Beyond just being terrible for the environment, climate change is actually worsening Gen Z’s mental health. 58% of Gen Z reported feeling stressed about global warming, according to the American Psychological Association, compared to 51% of adults overall. With young people being passionate about both the planet they live on and their own mental health, it’s only natural that climate change is going to be a major player in this midterm election.
Madeline Duncan, 18, a freshman at Columbia University, tells Her Campus, “As someone who grew up in a very agriculture-focused area, sustainability and climate change is one of the most important issues that I can vote on back home. Rural farming areas are some of the hardest hit by the effects of climate change in America currently and the promotion of sustainable agriculture practices by the government is crucial to combating this.”
- Racial justice
Gen Z has been very involved in racial justice initiatives, especially since 2020. From planning protests in their own communities to pushing for change through virtual activism, many young people are angered by the presence of unfair police and justice systems in their neighborhoods. 66% of people aged 18 to 22 either strongly or somewhat agree with the #BlackLivesMatter movement, according to a 2020 survey by GenForward, signaling that there is widespread support for the fight for equity. Through media and the news, many of them have become acutely aware of how generations of slavery and discrimination contribute to systematic inequalities. This has all contributed to a greater understanding that the government has a responsibility to actively stand up for and protect the rights of racial minorities, resulting in pushes for progressive policies.
McKenna Roberts, 19, a freshman at Barnard College, agrees, saying, “We need lawmakers that are willing to put these issues at the forefront of their agendas because the most marginalized groups, whether it’s their constituents or not, will suffer.”
Youth have made videos on TikTok and posted information on protests and ways to contact elected officials on Instagram, enabling many of them to call for change just with their fingertips. According to Business Insider, 78% of Gen Z’ers say they’ve used social media to express support for Black Americans, showing the extent to which young people are feeling empowered to fight for causes they believe in. With the desire to stop injustice at the forefront of many young people’s minds, racial justice is definitely going to be an important issue for voters.
- LGBTQ+ rights
Gen Z understands that there is a lot of work for their representatives and senators to do in terms of allowing members of the LGBTQ+ community to safely express their identities. Especially since the ratification of Florida’s restrictive “Don’t Say Gay” bill, and more than 300 other anti-LGBTQ+ bills passed nationwide, young people are making efforts to ensure that they and their peers don’t feel threatened for simply being themselves. Around two thirds of Gen Z is concerned about the future of LGBTQ+ rights, and as state attacks on the gay community continue to ramp up, it’s unlikely that that anxiety will go away anytime soon.
This issue is also personal for a significant portion of Gen Z; more than 20% of them identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community according to a 2022 Gallup poll, which is the highest of any other generation surveyed. These individuals — and their allies — want to ensure that they will not experience lawful discrimination and will enjoy the right to marry their partner of choice, to adopt a kid, to buy a house, and more, and the midterms are going to be their way of expressing that need.
Avery Worley, 22, a graduate student at the University of Florida, explains this very succinctly: “If a candidate does not support LGBTQ+ rights and is not working to elevate LGBTQ+ voices, they don’t have my vote.”
- Student debt
With more and more members of Gen Z entering college, and tuition prices going higher and higher, the way that the government handles student loan debt is going to not only impact their immediate education, but their futures beyond school. As of right now, Gen Z has more student debt than millenials did at their age, signifying an even greater importance of loan forgiveness. Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan may benefit Gen Z borrowers, but to many that is simply not enough — they want assurance that they can pursue a higher education without the burden of paying off their loans for decades after.
Mandi Dellagicoma, 17, a high school senior, says, “With the way that the world is, I’m already anxious enough. But with growing economic stress, going off to college — something that is a major life milestone and important phase — is turning into one of my biggest fears.”
Considering the huge electoral influence that Gen Z has, this generation is a group to look out for this election. For those of you that have already registered to vote, prepare for November, and get ready to use your democratic power to its full extent.
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