Year of Gen Z Engagement
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John Della Volpe

Director of Polling, Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics


THERE ARE LOTS of people talking about Gen Z, but far fewer people actually talking to young people. This has to change. This 70 million strong generation is the most diverse and most educated in our history. It’s also a generation that has come of age at a time of tremendous chaos and trauma. Most young people were born on either side of 9/11 and are becoming adults while experiencing the Great Recession, gun violence, shooter drills, contentious elections, political insurrection, the rise of white nationalism, opioid abuse, and rising rates of suicide.

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We need to transform the way in which we listen to younger folks around government and politics to incorporate them into campaigns and create opportunities to vote.”

So, from the very beginning, Zoomers lacked the sense of security that older generations often took for granted. Because of all this, Zoomers are taking any means necessary to make the community and country better. Not only volunteerism, but also participating in politics in record numbers—far higher than millennials or Gen X-ers or anybody else before them—essentially doubling the rate of participation in the last midterm election. And they bring with them a progressive, solutions-based mindset.

Zoomers don’t believe that critical institutions—whether it’s the judiciary, legislative branch, education—are listening. Less than 40 percent say their education experience prepared them to be active and engaged citizens. Despite that, they’re still voting in record numbers. So, what does it all mean? It means that we need to listen and collaborate with young people to transform the way in which our curricula and educational experiences are developed.

John Della Volpe

I truly believe that Gen Z is going to change everything. They are going to change the way in which our politics, government, school, and work operate. They are changing our technology, culture, family, and community. There’s a calling that’s unique to this generation to be part of something bigger than themselves.

Forty percent of Gen Z strongly agree that they want to make their community and their country better. They are open to working with people from across the aisle or across town to find solutions. We need to transform the way in which we listen to younger folks around government and politics to incorporate them into campaigns and create opportunities to vote.

One of the most significant findings in the two decades worth of data around young people is that they need to see the tangible impact that their engagement can make. So many young people volunteer because it feels good to teach another young person to read or to build a house or to help somebody. They can feel that. Too often traditional political activism takes a generation to see change. It took a generation or two for healthcare, for example. So, we need to remind young people of the impact and the change they’re having now.

With their record turnout in this election, specifically in the five swing states, we have a very different country today. We don’t have our first African American female Supreme Court justice without young people. It’s just a fact. So, Gen Z, own that, and remind folks of the power that you already have, even as 18, 19, and 20 year olds.