When you think about planning for next year’s election, keep this in mind: younger Americans are going to be a force.
Voters between 18 and 29 saw a whopping 79-percent increase in turnout in the last election, according to the Census Bureau. Their turnout reached 36 percent in 2018, up from 20 percent in 2014, and they were a major driver in an election that saw the highest voter turnout in four decades.
Next year, that trend is expected to continue, with experts saying overall voter turnout could again hit record levels. Part of that is the increasing influence of Generation Z, loosely defined as the Americans born from 1996 to 2012, who will represent an increasing percentage of the voting population.
The oldest members of Gen Z are in their early 20s, and many are still in college. They won’t dominate the electorate in 2020, but they will play an active role. The 2019 State of the Student report said that 80 percent of college students plan to vote in next year’s election.
If Rule #1 in advocacy is to know your audience, then we all need to understand more about Generation Z as they grow in influence.
Generational advocacy is the topic of a panel at this week’s Professional Women in Advocacy Conference, featuring Rochelle Colburn, chief operating officer at College to Congress, and Emily Gibbs, managing director of headcount. As the moderator, I’ve been talking and reading a lot about what defines Gen Z and how that relates to advocacy. Here are some thoughts:
- A Mobile Generation. Gen Z is the first generation of Americans to be born into a world with ubiquitous mobile technology and high-speed access. The ability to answer questions, make a purchase, communicate across platforms, take action or participate in the multiplayer universe has always been a part of their lives, and constant connection is an expectation. Roughly 59 percent said social media is their top form of news, according to a Business Insider poll. Organizations who want to talk to this generation will need to reach them in their pocket.
- An Embattled Generation. Most members of Gen Z won’t have memories of the Sept. 11 attacks. But they have grown up in the aftermath, born into a world in which the U.S. has waged a continuing battle against global terrorism. They have also seen their country grow increasing divided internally. How that translates politically may be too early to say. But a poll right before the 2018 election showed that fully one-third of voters ages 18 to 24 identified as independents.
- A Collaborative Generation. Gen Z has grown up alongside the sharing economy and with social media ever-present. The result is that they may be more collaborative. In a McKinsey & Co. study in November, 66 percent said they would join someone who thinks differently if there’s a shared cause. “Gen Zers are radically inclusive,” the study said. “They don’t distinguish between friends they meet online and friends in the physical world. They continually flow between communities that promote their causes by exploiting the high level of mobilization technology makes possible.”
- A Diverse Generation. Many signs indicate that Generation Z will be more diverse than its predecessors. Citing Census projections, the Pew Research Center said in a November report that “today’s 6- to 21-year-olds are projected to become majority nonwhite in 2026 (when they will be ages 14 to 29).” The diversity extends beyond race. Thirty-five percent say they know someone who uses gender-neutral pronouns, according to Pew, and 59 percent say forms and online profiles should include options other than “man” and “woman” when it comes to specifying gender. Advocacy organizations will need to be culturally fluent to communicate effectively.
Of course, Generation Z’s influence is just the beginning. They will not reach full force in the workplace or the electorate for years. But sophisticated organizations are getting ready now. From the Parkland protests to Greta Thunberg’s climate movement, Generation Z is making its voice heard. That voice will only get louder, and organizations—both nonprofits and corporations—need to be prepared.
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