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Millennial and Gen Z Voters Ahead of the 2020 Election: Interested, Engaged, Passionate — But Will They Show Up?

I’ve held an optimistic belief for awhile that runs counter to one of our society’s most stubborn negative stereotypes: Gen Z and Millennials are apathetic and uninterested in things that older generations deem important. While this narrative covers many aspects of being part of society, it’s hard not to focus on voting at the moment. Given the enormous stakes ahead of us on November 3, I felt compelled to see if I could put facts to my belief that Gen Z voters are, in fact, the polar opposite.

Fortunately, as someone who helps lead the data and analytics team for a company that focuses on these younger generations and creates social content for brands and creators to reach them, I had the unique opportunity to field a survey and gather data on what they actually think about important issues like voting interest and preferences. And that’s exactly what I did this past July.

So, what happened?

It turns out that Gen Z and Millennials of voting age do care about voting and other important issues. Further, they are interested, engaged and passionate about causes that impact all generations, such as education, racial equality, jobs/economy and healthcare reform. The fact that 90% of respondents said they plan to vote in the upcoming election – with 20% being first-time voters – speakers volumes. This is especially true when compared to the 2016 election, where only 51% of eligible Millennials voted. And most of Gen Z was too young to vote.

The results from the Fullscreen survey of 412 voters between the ages of 18-37 offers a timely and meaningful counterpoint to the narrative that these generations are disengaged from politics and don’t care about…pretty much anything beyond themselves and their social media feeds. This is important not only for forecasting political and other societal issues, but also for brands that are trying to reach and more deeply understand these consumer groups.

Let’s dig a little deeper into three of the areas where these cohorts demonstrate their overall interest, engagement and passion.

Ethics and Participation Are At the Forefront

Seeing “ethics” surface as the most important issue that would drive them to the polls – with it ranking first at 41% – indicates that these cohorts are driven much less by party and more by people. These younger voters are leaning into personal stances on topics over party-identified candidates.

From an overall participation standpoint, another notable takeaway was the interest in voting in local elections. In fact, well over half (60%) of the Gen Z and Millennials we surveyed agreed  that voting in local elections is a more effective way to impact change than voting in national elections, and the overall data signals an interest and desire in pushing forward change across the board. 

Brands, Social Media and Race Intertwine

Relationships with brands and social media are also shaping the opinions of younger voters in line with their engagement and passions, as is race.

Sixty percent agree that they expect brands to take a stand on social issues in 2020, and 46% agree that brands should be outspoken on political issues. All of these factors can have an impact on consumer perception and sales, as 43% say a brand’s stance on certain issues would impact their purchase decision. 

From a social media standpoint when it comes to politics, live streams (35%) and Instagram Stories (29%) are the most trusted formats for political coverage, suggesting that these generations view new formats across social channels as authentic platforms where the content is less polished, and people – including politicians – are more likely to show their true selves.  

Social media is also energizing activism and impacting brands, with race being at the forefront. Racially conscious initiatives such as Blackout Tuesday have been driven by social channels. And a parallel trend noted in a separate Fullscreen study reported that most Gen Z and Millennials agreed they are responsible for educating themselves when it comes to race-related issues, a statement that is true across all races and ethnicities and supports the throughline of these generations being engaged and taking action about the things that matter most to them.

The Jobs/Economy Combination Hits Gen Z and Millennials Hardest of All

A top issue for younger generations is the jobs/economy combination, something Gen Z and Millennials have been at the forefront of, but for less-than-desirable reasons. 

The current pandemic-induced recession has hit these two generations hardest. For Millennials, it’s the second recession they’ve been part of, and has led to the unfortunate designation as the “unluckiest generation in U.S. history”. But, as tough as it is for this older cohort, Gen Z is expected to be hit even harder as many are either just getting out of school, looking for a job or in an entry level, expendable job. This topic will be weighing heavily on their minds as they consider the people they will be voting for and, as with every other issue they are passionate about, Gen Z and Millennials are not going to sit back and hope things change for the better – they will be driving the change they want to see by engaging the people and institutions that can change things and voting according to their interests and passions.

Younger Generations Care. Deeply.

While our data is only a point-in-time sample of Gen Z and Millennial attitudes around politics, voting and media, it does provide a powerful rebuttal to the larger – and largely incorrect – assertion that these generations don’t care about anything other than themselves. Many remain hopeful, involved and engaged, despite the incredible turmoil we’ve all witnessed during 2020. In an era when it can be difficult to find positive news, this data represents an upbeat and hopeful counter to the stereotypical view of Gen Z and Millennials.