Hey Candidates: Gen Z Wants Policy, Not Cheap Tricks

In a critical election year, age has come to define American politics.

5 mins read

We’ve entered another presidential election year, and age has never been such a central campaign issue. Come November, voters will almost certainly face the two oldest major-party nominees in history. Donald Trump is 77, while Joe Biden is 81. Gen Z is fast becoming the largest generational slice of the electorate, but it isn’t being treated that way just yet.  

Trump and Biden have both made attempts to court young voters in recent weeks. But all too often, those pleas for votes can just feel like pandering. (We’re looking at Trump’s gold sneakers and Biden’s first TikTok, captioned “lol hey guys.”) Young people don’t want to be mimicked, they want to be heard. Gen Z cares deeply about issues from climate change to the economy to mental health. Gen Z wants policy, not cheap tricks. 

Art credit: Rob Lentz

In Issue 9, we have commissioned a range of original pieces examining what it will take to win young people in this election. 

“Stitching Jimmy Fallon’s posts and sharing your takes on the Super Bowl won’t be enough to win our votes in 2024,” writes Aaditi Lele in her piece looking at Biden’s youth outreach. Lele points out that, while the number of Gen Zers eligible to vote grows each day, 58 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds aren’t even sure they will vote. While foreign policy looked to be a boon to Biden’s chances during the war in Ukraine, the conflict in Gaza has changed the calculus. Some 45 percent of voters under 30 say they disapprove of Biden specifically for his approach to it. 

At the same time, Trump has also failed to win Gen Z’s vote. Just 42 percent of the generation approves of him, and toward the end of his presidency, a meager 28 percent of Gen Z supported Trump. A gender divide has appeared, however, when it comes to party affiliation among young people: “Republican affiliation among white men aged 18 to 24 jumped from 28% in 2019 to 41% in 2023, according to a Harvard Youth Poll,” writes Alexis Condon in her piece analyzing reports that young men may be gravitating toward the Republican Party. 

Despite Gen Z’s hesitant participation in politics this election, many in this generation are giving their all to get their peers on board. One example is Dylan Wells, a reporter profiled by Sarah Diaz who’s following Nikki Haley on her campaign trail. In addition to covering Haley’s campaign, Wells began an initiative to talk to young voters and get them inspired to follow the news and stay informed.

But it’s not all politics. We’ve also published a profile of a young climate activist from Jordan and the case for climate optimism. Often maligned for climate doomerism, Gen Z is showing resilience and dedication toward addressing the world’s biggest problems. These stories put you on the ground with the people trying to save the planet. 

To round off our issue, we’ve syndicated pieces from high school newspapers across the country on topics ranging from mental health, to social media, to e-cigarette use, to work-life balance. Once again, we’re seeing that young Americans are multifaceted, and that the younger generations care deeply about the topics impacting their communities, even as the world accuses them of political apathy.

Gen Z may be deeply displeased with both major candidates, but it is not apathetic. If anything, it is begging for people in power to take it seriously, and finding ways to shape policy even when they don’t. Young voters don’t feel connected to many of the candidates asking for their support. Politicians have nine months to do something about it.

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