The 2016 presidential election circus is leaving many Americans searching for answers. There’s no better place to look for solutions than the group of people who will shape our next decades as a nation: Generation Z.
Generation Z — those born between 1995 and 2010 — is rapidly becoming the next large voting demographic, replacing Millennials. This will be the first time members of Generation Z will vote in a presidential election, and they’ll have an impact on our government for years to come.
Findings from one of the first major studies of the generation now coming of age were published in “Generation Z Goes to College” by Corey Seemiller and Meghan Grace. According to the authors, Gen Z cares about societal issues and brings a “change agent mentality” as they transition into adulthood. But Gen Z has little faith in Washington.
“They don’t have a lot of confidence in our current government,” Grace told Opportunity Lives. “They see so much gridlock and lack of progress to address issues that are impacting our society.”
Gen Z’s frustration stems from the fact they truly care about addressing issues that affect society Grace and Seemiller found that education, employment and racial equality are among Gen Z’s most important concerns. They plan on overcoming those problems with good old-fashioned hard work and innovation.
“Entrepreneurship is finding and fixing a problem,” Grace said. “They’re really good at recognizing a problem and finding the niche that needs to be filled.”
According to the pair’s findings, along with this entrepreneurial bent comes a sense of financial responsibility. Some 84 percent of Gen Z’ers identify as fiscally moderate or conservative.
“This group has entered young adulthood as fiscally conservative, which I don’t think you can say about Millennials,” Grace said. “Budget cuts and the recession have been so [present] in their lives.”
This sense of financial responsibility — combined with a lack of faith in government — leads to a self-deterministic mindset that looks for the root causes of social problems.
“They’re going to use their creativity, their intelligence, and their ability to navigate the world a little bit differently than previous generations to fix it,” Grace said. “I don’t think they’re going to rely on the government to fix problems anymore.”
Gen Z’s preferred financial policies seem to be reliably conservative. But the rest of their beliefs defy categorization in the current partisan environment. According to Grace and Seemiller’s research, 40 percent of Gen Z’ers classify themselves as socially liberal — with over 80 percent supporting marriage equality.
“Many are projecting that they’ll be very libertarian in their views,” Grace said. She summarized their approach as, “‘Please don’t intervene in my life, but protect people and make sure everyone’s taken care of.’”
“Generation Z Goes to College” says that nearly 75 percent of the up-and-coming generation is very concerned about limitations on personal freedom. They don’t want government involvement in gun ownership, access to abortion, euthanasia or marriage.
“I don’t think they’re going to rely on the government to fix problems anymore.”
“Be prepared for this generation to decide how much soda they want to consume without having to answer to the government,” Grace and Seemiller write.
But before Gen Z is labeled en masse as typically libertarian, Seemiller points out in an article that their positions are determined on a case-by-case basis. For example, some care deeply about climate change while others “seem to be disconnected from the issue altogether.” Members of Gen Z like to choose the planks of their political platforms a la carte.
“They will likely be socially left-leaning Independents who vote simply for the issues, not the parties,” Seemiller writes.
Gen Z’s affinity for fiscal responsibility is heartening for people who favor a government that budgets the way every other American has to. But it’s clear that Gen Z does not respect the status quo in Washington. They are, however, in favor of substantive discourse and real solutions.
Gen Z has grown up in an ideologically pluralistic America, and they’re frustrated that the government originally instituted by and for the people is failing to reflect that reality.
Change doesn’t happen overnight, but a government that embraces polarization and arbitrary party platforms will alienate Generation Z voters further. Whatever happens in Washington, though, Grace thinks members of Gen Z will play an influential role.
“They’re going to be movers and shakers, and they’re going to be a powerful force in society,” she said.
Ben Ford is a contributor for Opportunity Lives.