Younger voters turned heads in 2018 when they showed up to vote; in 2020 they are turning out BIG in early voting stats
Gen-Z Voters are More Engaged than Ever
First-time voter Elise Joshi joined TikTok about a month ago to help get the word out about climate change. But it was her video that landed on the app’s “For You” page about why she’d be “happily voting for Joe Biden” in November that racked up more than 500,000 views.
This year probably wasn’t what Joshi grew up thinking things would look like when she was 18. She’s navigating her first semester of college at University of California, Berkeley, while wildfires surround her home in Northern California. Then there’s the global pandemic, and protests over racial injustice continuing across the nation. But, she says, she couldn’t think of a better election to vote in for the first time.
“I feel like you always remember the first time you vote,” Joshi says. “This is the most influential election of our lifetime because it determines the next century.”
Joshi is one of 15 million young Americans that have turned 18 since 2016, a major voting block in this year’s electorate. A recent Harvard Youth Poll found that younger voters’ traditionally low turnout may be different this fall: 63% of its respondents, aged 18-29, said they would “definitely be voting,” compared to 47% in 2016.
For many of them, like Joshi, TikTok has become an integral part of that experience. During this crisis-filled year, TikTok has emerged as a space where millions of Gen Zers have turned to take their political activism across the political spectrum. Since being launched in the U.S. in 2016, the platform now has over 100 million active users in the country.
Between January 2018 and August 2020, it’s use went up an astronomical 800%. One media analyst called it the “winning social network of the pandemic,” as young creators have broadened its landscape to dance videos, short skits and most recently, a platform to rally on ahead of the November election.
Then Trump called it all off — or tried to. In August, Trump signed an executive order to ban TikTok due to data security concerns over the Chinese-owned app. TikTok has since sued Trump and filed for an injunction to stop the potential removal of its product from U.S. app stores as they navigate a deal for Oracle to buy the app. For now, the platform is allowed to operate.
What’s Motivating Younger Voters?
Some progressive TikTok activists see Trump’s interference as an opportunity. “It’s kind of giving the middle finger to Gen-Z and taking away the one thing that brought them a lot of joy in the last six months,” says Colton Hess, creator of Tok The Vote, a progressive voter registration campaign with over 11 million hashtag views that is working to get 18 to 21 year olds on the platform registered to vote.
Hess isn’t the first one to recognize the potential influence of progressive young TikTok users in the 2020 race; their impact has already gone far beyond their own screens. Before taking to Apple to sabotage the Trump campaign app, TikTok users trying to disrupt Trump’s re-election effort encouraged each other to buy tickets to the President’s rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and not show up.
Before the rally, campaign organizers crowed about a huge expected turnout. In the end, only 6,200 people attended, reportedly horrifying the President.
Politically active TikTok users like the app because of its algorithm’s ability to turn users into overnight sensations. And as traditional “influencers” wrestle for engagement on oversaturated apps like Instagram and Facebook, many of them have shifted their content creator focus towards TikTok.
Those relative newcomers were also “very vocal about their outrage about Trump’s action towards TikTok as a platform,” says Elma Beganovich of digital marketing agency A&E. “It definitely mobilized the influencers to be very vocally anti-Trump because you know somebody is jeopardizing your livelihood.”
Seems that Gen Z is more motivated than ever to play a role in what they already see as the election of their lifetime. As Hess puts it: “I think young people hold the keys to the White House.”
As states are now opening up to allow early voting via in person or absentee / mail-in voting, local voting districts and notably in key swing states are recording much higher than normal turnout and especially with younger voters.
We saw some early signs going back to the 2018 midterms, where youth voting played a big role in the blue wave that took back the House of Representatives for the Democrats with young voter turnout suddenly increased to 32% after decades of stagnation in midterm cycles (compared to 17% in 2014).
Other signs of younger voter interest include a marked increase in online activism, signing petitions, participating in political protests, college campus voter registration events and a noticeable increase in posting political discussion topics on social media.
This year, the COVID19 pandemic has dominated the lives of Americans and younger voters have been paying attention, with 82% of Gen Zers say this pandemic has made them realize how their political leaders’ decisions impact their everyday lives, according to a study from Crowd.DNA and Snapchat.
Potential Impact of Generation Z Voters
Since the last presidential election, more than 15 million young people have turned 18. For some perspective on how consequential this new bloc of voters is, in 2016, fewer than 80,000 votes in three states—Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin—determined the outcome of the election for President Trump.
According to CIRCLE, voter registration overall among 18- to 24-year-olds is currently higher than it was in 2016.
Gen Z is the largest, most diverse generation in history. Seven million young people of color will have turned 18 since the last election and just this year alone, 4 million Americans will turn 18.
Yet, young people consistently have lower rates of voter participation compared to older generations. 2020 is also the first year ever that the electorate will be mostly young people, with millennials and Gen Z comprising 51% of the population. This presents a tremendous opportunity for these younger generations to influence this election.
On the issues, Gen Z tends to be more liberal-leaning than past generations and are more critical of the current administration according to Pew Research Center. They also tend to be more progressive on social issues, such as LGBTQ+ equality and racial justice. Additionally, 80% of young people believe that climate change is a major threat to humanity and that the government should do more to enact climate policy.
“Ultimately, Gen Z is going to be left with whatever consequences or decisions that happen during this year and for years to come,” said Sydney Stewart, 18, a first-time voter from Goodlettsville, Tennessee.
Early Gen Z Turnout in Key Swing States
Florida opened up its polls to early voting in person this morning and already there are signs that this critical battleground state’s pre-Election Day electorate is currently trending younger than four years ago.
In ballots returned before in-person voting opened on Monday, Florida voters under 65 years old accounted for about half the ballots cast, marking a 12-point uptick in their share of the early vote compared to this time in 2016. The share of seniors aged 65 or older has dropped from about 64% of the pre-election vote then to just 52% now.
Younger voters in Georgia have registered to vote at a higher rate than in any other state, compared with the last presidential election. That growing voting bloc may help sway the key races for president, two U.S. senators and two seats in the House, according to a new report from the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University.
In 2016, Georgia youth voters picked Democrats by a 30-point margin compared to the overall electorate, according to CIRCLE. And this segment of the population is growing faster in Georgia than anywhere else: among those 18-24, there were 34 percent more registered voters in September 2020 compared to November 2016.
So far, early voting in Georgia continues to smash previous records according to the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office.
“Georgia is a leader in election access,” Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said. “Notwithstanding the pandemic, voters in the Peach State can take advantage of no-excuse absentee ballot voting by mail or through a secure drop box; three weeks of early, in-person voting; or Election Day voting.”
His news release said more than 782,500 people had voted in person and more than 654,800 by mail. That compared to 490,100 votes in person and 88,000 by mail by Oct. 23, 2016 – a 59.7% increase at the polls and 644% by mail.
On the first day of early voting this year in Georgia, more than 128,000 people went to the polls, many of them waiting in line for hours and a significant percentage of those waiting in the long lines were young voters.
These are all very positive signs but don’t take your foot off the accelerator just yet.
Reach out to ALL of your like minded friends, family members and neighbors – especially those who may be voting for the first time. Make sure they are registered and know where / how to vote.
Maybe even ask them to go along with you when you go to vote, offering to give them and any of their friends a ride.
This is how we take America back…