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Gen Z Is Supposed To “Save” U.S. Politics — But Do We Really Want To?

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Her Campus is on tour! In partnership with Future Caucus and DoSomething, the Her Campus Voices: Election 2024 Tour is coming to college campuses around the country to host conversations with students to get their insights and opinions as we approach the November election. First up is Michigan State University — here’s what the Spartans had to say about the expectations for Gen Z to save U.S. politics.

The United States political climate has grown noticeably more tense as the 2024 presidential election draws closer. Many are looking to Gen Z, the youngest generation currently able to vote, as a savior due to their proven passion for justice and activism. TBH, the phenomenon of looking to the youth to “save the world” is nothing new, but as the U.S. political ecosystem continues to unravel in recent years, the pressure on younger generations is intense, to say the least.

Gen Z is one of the first generations to grow up with virtually unlimited access to information, due to the accessibility of the internet, which has also allowed them to communicate and mobilize on a larger scale. They grew up in a time of political progress, from the first Black president, to the legalization of marriage equality, to the first woman vice president. But for every progression made, it felt like there were just as many steps back: the Dobbs decision that overturned Roe v. Wade, countless school shootings, and a deadly pandemic that divided the country further. To many members of Gen Z, the future looks bleak — so can we really make enough change to “save the world?”

And even if we can… do we want to take on that tremendous burden on our own?

“It’s like a pipe dream to believe young people will save you when it’s more of an institutional thing.”

The truth is, many members of Gen Z are already feeling burnt out by politics. For many, the majority of their young adult lives have felt like one devastating event after another. On top of that, Gen Z is coming of age in a country where few can afford housing and health insurance is not guaranteed

“I feel like some older generations have a hard time understanding why we feel so hopeless,” Charlie B., a student at Michigan State University tells Her Campus in an exclusive conversation on the Her Campus Voices Tour.

As Gen Zers grow older, they’re getting tired of hearing that they have to be the ones to “save” everything, when the things they want to change feel so far out of their control. 

“The thing is, every generation has [the mindset that] the younger generation will step through. It was the same thing that was said during the Arab Spring, the 1920s, the 1960s, and it just never happens,” Belma H. says. “It’s like a pipe dream to believe young people will save you when it’s more of an institutional thing.”

Madison R. echoes this sentiment, saying, “I can’t really see that much of a bright future if every four years we’re just going to do the same thing over again.” 

A lot of these students’ frustrations with these institutions are tied to their displeasure with political representatives who don’t reflect their own interests or identities. The presumed frontrunner candidates in the 2024 presidential election, current president Joe Biden (D) and former president Donald Trump (R), are largely deemed out of touch with the youth, and are both well past retirement age in the U.S. (and the same can be said for many members of Congress). To many, it still feels like a long way away before more Gen Zers are holding political roles.

“I’ve been thinking we just have to hold out until our generation starts getting into office, and it just feels like that point is never going to come,” Charlie B. says.

MSU student speaking about pressure for Gen Z to save the U.S. political system
Josephine Sullivan

Despite their general discontent, these MSU students persist in their political involvement, if only because they are so passionate about the issues they stand for.

Alex B. says, “Reproductive justice is definitely what’s driving my vote.” Charlotte P. agrees: “People have died because they don’t have access to [abortion].” These students are not alone in having their votes driven by reproductive justice: In the 2022 midterm elections, many students cited abortion and reproductive rights as the top issue influencing their vote. The same can be said about Her Campus’s own data gathered in a December 2023 election survey, in which the issue of reproductive rights was the No. 1 topic Gen Z respondents cared about most.

The Israel-Hamas war is another issue some students say is driving them to stay politically active. “Seeing so many leftist politicians be really moderate and supportive of Israel — it just feels very alienating,” Belma H. shares. This sentiment has been the root of many college student protests in support of Palestine around the country this spring. Meanwhile, antisemitism has concurrently become more commonplace and has left many Jewish college students feeling unsafe on campuses. In general, neither side of the conflict feel particularly supported by their political representatives.

Another student’s worry about the state of education is driving her to stay involved. “Book bans are very concerning to me,” Maya N.* says. “I cannot believe that’s happening the way that literature is being censored. That’s terrifying — why are we going backwards?”

The MSU students also cite transgender rights, gun control, political corruption, healthcare, and immigration rights as leading issues that drive them to vote and stay politically active.

Overall, these Gen Zers are tired and disappointed in the state of U.S. politics, but despite all of the tragedy they’ve seen, they still have hope. “A lot of things start small in local politics,” Emma G. says. “If each community can come together and keep working, I think that is what makes me see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

Sarah F. agrees, “I’d like to have a little bit of hope, otherwise I would not be able to sleep at night.”

*Name has been changed.

Jordyn Stapleton has been a National Lifestyle Writer for Her Campus since February 2023. She covers a variety of topics in her articles, but is most passionate about writing about mental health and social justice issues. Jordyn graduated from CU Boulder in December 2022 with Bachelor’s degrees in music and psychology with a minor in gender studies and a certificate in public health. Jordyn was involved in Her Campus during college, serving as an Editorial Assistant and later Editor-in-Chief for the CU Boulder chapter. She has also worked as a freelance stringer for the Associated Press. Jordyn is currently taking a gap year and working at a local business in Boulder, with hopes of attending graduate school in fall 2024. Jordyn enjoys reading, bullet journalling, and listening to (preferably Taylor Swift) music in her free time. If she isn’t brainstorming her next article, you can usually find her exploring coffee shops or hiking trails around Boulder with her friends.