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OPINION

How to get Gen Z to the voting booth

All Democrats have to do is make sure my generation knows about their victories. At the same time, Democrats need to highlight how they differ from Republicans. That should be simple.

Attendees raise their fists during a rally hosted by NextGen in Houston on Oct. 2, 2021. NextGen is targeting nearly 2 million young voters in Texas to help Democrats win the state.Annie Mulligan/NYT

In less than six months, voters will make their voices heard in the 2022 midterm elections, with tremendous consequences at stake. If Democrats lose control of Congress, our nation is set to be more focused on banning books, limiting access to safe abortions, and restricting voting rights, rather than expanding health care, reforming gun policy, and making headway on climate change. Simply put, Democrats cannot afford to lose in November.

But for Democrats to win, they must make a heightened effort to mobilize my generation — Gen Z — to vote. Democrats can succeed in getting my peers to the polls if they do two things: First, they must clearly present the contrast between what Democrats and Republicans have accomplished and what each party stands for, and second, they must utilize new social media platforms.

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Historically, youth voter turnout has trailed behind that of older voters. Take, for instance, the 2016 presidential election: 39 percent of voting-eligible young people — those ages 18-29 — cast a ballot, more than 20 percent lower than the national average. That statistic becomes more pronounced during midterm, state, and local races.

However, the 2020 presidential election showed promising signs. According to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts, youth voter turnout increased by 11 points from 2016. What’s more, the gap between the young voter and national average turnout rate shrank by almost 6 percent in 2020 compared to 2016. Young people demonstrated a heightened level of political enthusiasm in 2020.

Political engagement among Gen Z is unsurprising, though. We have been on the front lines of leading movements and raising awareness around everything from Black Lives Matter to climate change. A Harvard Youth Poll found that more than 3 out of every 10 young people under 30 report being politically active. Ultimately for Gen Z, it is not a question of how to become more interested in politics. Instead, it is how to channel our hunger for change into voting at the ballot box. There is a path forward.

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Democrats need to make their accomplishments crystal clear to voters. And fortunately, Democrats have much to highlight that would interest my generation. For example, President Biden recently took a significant step in reforming gun policy by making background checks mandatory for ghost guns. Additionally, in 2021, Democrats passed an infrastructure bill that will invest $50 billion in climate change. These accomplishments directly connect to issues that affect Gen Z the most. Now all Democrats have to do is make sure my generation knows about their victories.

At the same time, Democrats need to highlight how they differ from Republicans. That should be simple. Democrats are not trying to increase barriers to voting. Democrats are not challenging election results without any predicate. Democrats are not attempting to undermine a woman’s right to choose or efforts to combat climate change. It is the Republican Party doing all of that. The more Democrats can emphasize such messaging, the more it will propel my generation to act.

To move as many Gen Z voters to the polls as possible, Democrats should also expand their social media presence — something that would certainly reach Gen Z, given the extent to which social media is woven into our identity. Look no further than the 2021 Georgia Senate runoff races to see the benefits of doing so.

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For the first time since 1980, Georgia elected two Democrats — Jon Ossoff and the Rev. Raphael Warnock — to the US Senate, in no small part because both candidates invested in a social media operation that moved beyond Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Warnock jumped onto the streaming platform Twitch and hosted game nights while answering questions about his campaign. Ossoff took TikTok by storm, posting digestible videos that captured key issues and what his campaign stood for. With nearly 1 in 5 young adults voting in the Georgia runoffs, but not the 2020 presidential election, Democrats should not hesitate to enter new social media spheres.

There are over 68 million Americans who are Generation Z. We are the third-largest generation in America. We are the most diverse and educated generation. And we are eager for change. That’s why Democrats must devote more resources, effort, and time to get all those in my generation eligible to vote to the ballot box. The stakes are simply too high not to invest in every voter — especially those in Generation Z.

Victor Shi is a sophomore at UCLA, was elected as the youngest delegate for Joe Biden in 2020, and cohosts the iGen Politics Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @Victorshi2020.