Opinion Politics Society United States

How Generation Z Will Shape American Politics

Generation Z could impact American politics in several ways.

Harley Austin | United States

In American politics, age groups have always been a major demographic, with every group leaning towards different ideologies and having unique values. These differences, along with other cultural aspects, have led to the generalities associated with certain generations, most notably millennials and baby-boomers. For many years, millennials were considered the newest and youngest participants in American politics. However, a newer generation is taking that title: Generation Z. Gen-Zs are already engaged in politics and activism, and are finally able to vote. We can now accurately assess Generation Z’s political standpoints and how they will most likely affect America’s political landscape.

In most cases, generations tend to be relatively balanced in terms of political views. The amount of progressives within a generation tends to roughly equal the number of people who lean towards conservatism. Along with these two major belief systems, there are other factions, such as those who support libertarianism. These smaller groups remain relatively stable across each generation. When left on their own, these beliefs will stay in balance. However, abnormalities, notably major historical shifts or events, will cause an imbalance, which leads to a generation leaning towards one specific ideology.

In the case of the baby-boomers, America’s Cold War, and the massive amount of conflict, propaganda, and anti-communist sentiments that came with it led to strong feelings of nationalism and American exceptionalism among that generation. This resulted in the baby-boomers’ favoring conservatism that is generally associated with them today. Events such as America’s economic troubles of 2009-2010, the growing anti-war sentiments that came as a result of George W. Bush’s foreign policies, the increased social tolerance in the post-Counter-Culture era, and the appeals of Barack Obama led to Generation Z’s progressive attitude. However, for Generation X, the lack of major political shifts and events in America during the mostly peaceful 80s and 90s led to that generation being more balanced in terms of political views.

So where does this leave Generation Z? While many polls have tried to answer this, they have failed to realize that the answer comes from more than just numbers. To analyze Gen-Zs, we must look at the political landscape they grew up with and their responses to it.

The Political Realm of the 2010s

Soon after the election of Barack Obama in 2008, which for most Gen-Zs was their first introduction to the world of politics, identity politics started to plague America’s political discourse. This led to the heavily divisive, intense, and hyper-partisan politics that have been around ever since. Growing up with this extreme partisanship, Gen-Zs saw politics as a ruthless battle that was fought tooth-and-nail between the two parties: Democrats and Republicans. For most this meant joining the chaotic battles on the side of one of the two parties, especially through the internet during the rise of internet memes and social media. This chaotic and combative interpretation of what politics is supposed to be, along with the two-party dichotomy,  has led to the balanced, but very passionate and loyal, political views of Generation Z.

This fiery political spirit continued through the 2010s and peaked during the 2016 election. In 2016, Gen-Zs, with all their built-up political passion, were very eager to witness the first election of their adolescence. This bottled-up intensity was then directed at 2016’s highly controversial yet popular candidate, Donald Trump, which resulted in a highly combative and divisive election year for Gen-Zs.

For the Gen-Zs who sided with the Democrats, Donald Trump was the embodiment of everything they had been taught to hate: racism, sexism, and nearly every other “ism” or “phobe” imaginable. To them, Donald Trump meant the end of what American progressivism had been working for and the end of Obama’s progressive attitudes and policies that they had known for most of their lives. This belief that they were defending their way of life instead of a political ideology led to the major growth of identity politics and hardcore progressivism. For the Democrat Gen-Zs, Donald Trump winning would mean the end of everything they politically knew and loved, and they were determined to stop him.

For Gen-Zs who sided with the Republicans, Donald Trump was the embodiment of everything they were taught to glorify about Pre-2000s America: patriotism, nationalism, American strength, tradition, and Christianity. To them, Donald Trump meant the end of what they viewed as Obama’s weak leadership and the return to the American glory days they had heard so much of but were born too late to see. This belief that they had been born after the American “Golden Age” meant that “Make America Great Again” wasn’t just a catchy slogan about fixing America, it was like a rallying cry that would lead them to political salvation. For the Republican Gen-Zs, Donald Trump winning would mean the end of the Democrat leadership they had lived with their whole lives and the start of a new, prosperous America, an America that Gen Z was determined to see.

Luckily, the 2016 election was the peak of Generation Z’s political infatuation. After the election, many became fed up with politics, choosing to either become more apolitical or to abandon the two-party system entirely and become libertarian. Gen-Zs were now older and more mature, allowing political discourse to become more civil. Gen Zs became dedicated to the truth and began to think for themselves instead of believing what they had been told. In the aftermath of 2016, Generation Z has now returned to its more stable political balance.

Modern Political Activism

Despite the increased civility, Gen-Zs are still very interested in politics and making their voices heard, either online or through activism. Because of their young age, many Gen-Zs do not want to feel overlooked, which has led to a desire for activism, protesting, and other political messaging.

Activism has been especially popular among progressive Gen-Zs since it gives them a way to voice their disagreements with the Trump Presidency through what many call “resistance.” The first major example of this was the 2017 Women’s March, which many progressive Gen-Zs attended as a way to advocate for social equality and to protest Donald Trump and his policies. However, the largest Gen-Z movement has been the March For Our Lives protests. Unlike other causes, this movement was created by Gen-Zs, for Gen-Zs, because of the school shootings of 2018. This is a major example of how Gen-Zs are both willing and capable of engaging in politics and related activism, something we will surely see more of in the future.

While protesting and marches have been popular among progressive Gen-Zs, conservative Gen-Zs have chosen a more laid-back approach: online activism. Because of the extreme negative social stigma associated with those who support conservatism or Trump, conservative Gen-Zs prefer the more anonymous approach of using the internet to spread their views. These range from simple methods of social media pages and boards, a tactic they have used for years, to more complex internet activism, notably the interest and controversy surrounding QAnon.

Online activism is also very popular among libertarian Gen-Zs. Because of the two-party system’s stranglehold on conventional methods of spreading political views, libertarian Gen-Zs have taken their message online. Their methods also consist of social media pages and, unlike other Gen-Zs who are less interested in dealing with political parties, libertarian Gen-Zs are also willing to show strong support for Libertarian candidates and sometimes the Libertarian Party.

Generation Z’s Impact

While the progressive Gen-Zs’ marches have caught the most media attention, leading to many wrongful assumptions that Gen-Zs are “the new millennials,” Generation Z is a very politically balanced generation that is very passionate in what they believe. The years to come will likely see plenty of activism from this new generation, but major political shifts are less likely than many might assume.

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