Many members of Gen Z are still in middle school, but the eldest are flooding into college, the workplace and the voting booth. They have clout already.
Born with Their Eyes Open
A realistic bunch, Zs approach adulthood after wading through years of terrorist attacks, financial meltdowns, racial and religious conflict, and entrenched political divide. This has made them fairly pessimistic. Forty percent of Gen Zs think the world is becoming a worse place. Only 20 percent believe it’s becoming better.
Eighty-two percent of Gen Z say their primary fear for the future is the rise of terrorism and extremism. Slightly fewer, 81 percent, say the possibility of conflict and war keeps them afraid.
Afraid. A generation of kids who grew up afraid. Their biggest fears are for national security and economic recovery.
Fiscal Conservatives with Clout Already
With long-term recession as part of their childhoods, most Gen Zs (84 percent) identify as fiscally moderate or conservative. As individuals, most Zs are cautious with money and prefer to save rather than spend. As a generation, they expect the same responsible behavior from government. Their fiscal conservatism is already in play.
Zs are wary of labels and do not connect with either major party, but their votes in 2016 probably benefited Republicans.
Between 2012 and 2016, Democratic candidates lost 5 PERCENT of the youth vote nationally. That drop may have been influenced by Gen Zs who voted for the first time.
Naturally, Gen Z votes will matter even more in the 2018 midterm elections, when 8 million more Zs will be eligible to cast ballots than in 2016.
Gen Z has something of a love-hate relationship with government. Altruistic, they absolutely want to change the world for the better, but they don’t trust that the American Dream will find its way into their lives. Studies of today’s college students reveal that Gen Z cares about societal issues, and brings belief in change and youthful optimism to problems; however they have little faith in Washington. This makes sense if you consider that for all of Z’s lives, Washington has been basically gridlocked, making little progress to address the issues that impact society.
Finally, consider the Occupy movement that Gen Z witnessed as children. Who was the enemy protestors occupied against? Big banking, big financial institutions and big government that had failed to protect people from the greed of those institutions. In every case, the enemy was “big.”
Marketers find that Gen Z distrusts big brands. Add big government to the list.
Don’t Tread on Me
Put together an expectation of fiscal responsibility with a lack of faith in government and you get a generation with a self-deterministic mindset. We’re looking at a cohort that is not going to rely on government to fix problems.
The Gen Z approach to government is best summarized as libertarian or “Make sure everyone’s taken care of, but don’t interfere in my life.” Nearly 75 percent of this generation is very concerned about limitations on personal freedom. They don’t favor government limitations on gun ownership, access to abortion, marriage equality, transgender rights, euthanasia or marriage. Overall, they support non-violent free speech, even when what is being said is offensive.
Like I said, love-hate. Zs want government to take care of things—mostly national security and the economy—but otherwise, to leave individuals alone.
Here’s an experiment. Go to the polls next time there’s an election and observe the numbers of people who pick up those red-white-and-blue “I Voted” stickers. Boomers pick them up and put them on. They wear those stickers all day long, even if they change their clothes. Some Millennials will wear those stickers, too. But not Gen Xers and their Gen Z kids. They'd be more comfortable with stickers that say “I tried.” Or simply “None of Your Business.”
Out of Struggle, Something New
How will Gen Z political attitudes impact government in coming years as the first Gen Zs claim seats in Congress? Already we know that Zs value harmony and cooperation over idealistic extremes. So don’t expect them to storm the doors. Like their great-grandparents—the Silent Generation (who got that name because they didn’t protest but simply put their heads down and worked)—Gen Z is likely to work hard and steadily, but not rock the boat.
By 2030, when Gen Zs reach substantial numbers in Congress, this generational 4th Turning (a seismic shift in power from one generation to the next) will be ending. Gen Zs are likely to usher in a unified and peaceful period in politics. They’ll stress consensus and compromise over individualism, and in doing so, they'll move change along and get things done.
If we are lucky, a new national identify and purpose will have emerged by 2030—identity and purpose that Gen Z leaders can build on. Like the Silent Generation in the 1950s and 60s, Gen Zs in the 2030s and 2040s will base their hopes on renewed social and economic systems. They’ll build businesses, families and communities.
Then, somewhere around 2050, their own children will be teens and young adults who are done with conformity and ready to rebel. They’ll protest—whatever protest looks like then—and upset their conservative Gen Z parents to no end.
How will Gen Z impact the 2018 elections? Join the conversation. Tweet us @AmyLynchGenEdge and don't forget to add your #generation!
Amy Lynch works with companies that want to Harness the Power of Gen IQ: Generational Intelligence. She has spoken to hundreds of groups, from MTV and Comcast to Boeing, J&J and the staff of the U.S. Senate. Contact Amy about your next event.
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