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The kids aren’t OK and they’re ready to vote. Washington should be worried about this.
Millennial and Gen Z Americans—those in their early 40s and younger—already outnumber Baby Boomers. To date, it’s been Boomers, the largest voting block for the last three decades, who show up on Election Day, whereas their kids and grandkids, broadly speaking, are chronically absent. But if 2020 and its remarkable participation among new voters is an indicator, that’s projected to flip in short order. Numerous projections show that the Boomers will be outnumbered by Millennials and Zoomers. The campaign would see a significant rethinking of American politics: ads during Wheel of FortuneSnap ads, however, are now available.
It also turns out that these rising voters, who may be the majority of the deciders in this November’s midterm elections, are seething. New polling from a nominally apolitical coalition of youth-focused groups suggest pessimism over America’s future runs five times as strong among Americans under 40 than optimism. The Civiqs polling conducted for the Alliance for Youth Organizations finds two-thirds of all young people sharing that dour view, and it doesn’t really matter what political party they align with. While Democrats and independents each outnumber Republicans by a 2-to-1 margin, each bloc’s allegiance to a party is not all that strong. Unhappiness tends to be stronger among those at the young end of this spectrum, specifically those aged 25- and under.
“The changes that we’ve observed have not been so much about what young people are saying their priorities are,” says Drew Linzer, the director and co-founder of Civiqs “It’s about a growing feeling of disappointment that action has not risen to the level that they hoped for.”
Many reasons can explain discontent. The 2008 financial crisis and recovery caused many to lose their careers in the early years. COVID-19 has made it more difficult for younger Americans to get into an economically strong country. “We have a generation of young people—mostly Gen Zs—who have had so many tragic moments in their lives, especially school shootings, who have activated them,” says Dakota Hall, the executive director of the Alliance for Youth Organizations.
Washington needs to care. These voters finally realize the power that they have, as shown by the results of the polls for the 2018 and 2020 election. D.C. plays a significant role in their discontent. A full 91% of Democrats in this demographic say they are angry or frustrated with what’s transpiring on the Potomac. This number is 93% for Republicans. (Young Republicans’ AngerThe score of Democrats is doubled. There is virtually no variation among the racial groups in the sample. This suggests that Washington contempt might bridge racial and political differences.
A 72-slide presentation is set to be sent to allies tomorrow to inform them of the political environment they’re navigating for goals like registering voters, promoting progressive policies and combating injustice. (They’re officially nonpartisan, they’ll tell you.) Inside that trove of data comes a few warnings that line up with other harbingers of doom ricocheting around Democratic circles as the nation just days ago marked Joe Biden’s first year in the presidency.
This group of Americans, aged under 40 years, is not a fan of the President. Even among Democrats in the sample, a full 1-in-5 said Biden’s team was not working on policies to help their lives and one-third said their view of Democrats has gotten worse since they won control of Congress in 2020. Among all respondents, a full 48% agreed with the assessment that Biden wasn’t working for them, topping the 35% who said the opposite. A similar sample showed that 55% had an adverse view of Biden while only 36% had a positive one.
“The poll made it very clear that there needs to be a course correction, whether that’s congressional Democrats and Republicans or Joe Biden. We must refocus political priorities to ensure that young people feel heard and represented regardless of political party,” Hall says.
While it might be tempting to think that this poll of nearly 2,000 Americans is an exception, Democrats would make a huge mistake. Separate polling out today from the Pew Research Center finds 63% of Democrats under the age of 30 carrying an unfavorable view of Biden’s job performance. To be fair, Biden ranks below most demographic groups in this survey, including whites and men of all ages, as well as those who have not completed postgraduate education.
Although it would seem tempting to encourage Republicans to revel in these figures, this would also lead to a false reading of the reality. Former President Donald Trump did a doozy of numbers on younger voters’ views of the Republican Party. Civiqs’ polling finds an astounding 64% of these Americans holding an unfavorable opinion of Trump and 69% having the same opinion of Republicans in Congress. Trump might have some influence over the Republican Party, but he’s not invited to any of the mixers for young professionals.
In politics, rage is an effective tool. Republicans successfully used it in 2010 in order to ride the tea party wave up to power, and Democrats one year later attempted to modify the rules of finance at Zuccotti Park using the same frustration-fueled activism that led to the Occupy Wall Street movement. Trump used America’s frustration to claim power in 2016 and that same discontent over Washington’s behavior helped Democrats win majorities in 2018 and the White House in 2020.
So don’t discount the (almost) apolitical anxiety coming from the next generation of voters. TIME’s Charlotte Alter has masterfully been on this beat for years and spotted it well before most. As she writes in her 2020 book on the changing course of politics: “The demise of the old gatekeepers led to the rise of a new kind of archetype: the disrupter.” Judging from these new numbers, these disruptors seem to be multiplying in numbers and ambition. And, finally, they’re showing up on Election Day.
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