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Gen Z Voters Maintain Faith in Democracy, Despite Election Concerns

November 12, 2020 by Sara Wilkerson
Georgetown University. (Photo by Dan McCue)

WASHINGTON – In a Georgetown University focus group webinar of voters from Generation Z, the first-time voters expressed their excitement over participating in the democratic process, while at the same time voiced concerns about various influences on the election. The focus group explored how the youngest generation to be casting ballots felt about voting and the overall experience of the 2020 election. 

Held virtually on Nov. 4, the day after Election Day, the focus group was convened by the Institute of Politics and Public Service at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy. The conversation was led by Kristen Soltis Anderson, co-founder of Echelon Insights and a nationally recognized expert on the youth vote. 

The focus group featured a mix of seven participants from various states across the country, featuring those from rural, urban, and suburban areas, as well as participants from a range of racial and ethnic backgrounds and political views. 

Starting the conversation on the voting process and method they chose to participate in the election, the focus group was fairly split between those who voted in person (typically those who lived in smaller, less populous towns) and by mail. 

For those who did decide to vote in person, they found the voting process to be easy and expedient due to short, well-managed lines at the polls. Overall, the group reported a positive experience in their chosen voting method. 

“I didn’t picture voting by mail. I had always pictured voting in person and getting a sticker, but of course because of COVID, things were a little bit different this year,” said Amelia J. from New Jersey. 

She continued, “Filling it [the mail-in ballot] out just kind of felt like filling out any other piece of paper, but putting it in the envelope and putting in the mailbox, it was really exciting and it made me really excited for the future. It made me feel important. Even though it’s just one vote, it all matters in the grand scheme of things.” 

When it came to being informed of the candidates on the ballot this year, the participants generally agreed that they were well informed of the presidential candidates and their policies. However the group said that they were less informed on state and local candidates on the same ballot. 

As a possible remedy to this problem, Hailey G. from New York suggested that there should be websites dedicated to showcasing state and local candidates’ views on issues and policies that matter to voters. 

When asked if there were any outside influences that encouraged them to vote, most participants said that those in their close circle of family and friends, as well as celebrities and influencers on social media gently encouraged and reminded them to vote. 

Notably, Anderson asked the group if they had been contacted by campaigns directly to encourage voter participation. While some said they received pamphlets or text messages from campaigns trying to persuade them to vote, the group generally said that voting pressures came from non-campaign affiliated sources. 

Shifting to the importance of their vote contributing to the Electoral College, the group of Gen Z voters believed that their vote did “count” in terms of being properly counted in their preferred method and that their vote went towards popular vote numbers. 

Yet many felt that the Electoral College meant their vote for president – usually the vote they felt the most educated about casting – was not as meaningful. Especially for those who said they were not in swing states, some expressed that it was disappointing to feel like they were not necessarily able to swing the election. 

“My state is definitely the farthest thing from a swing state, and I don’t necessarily agree with everybody else, so in that sense, it kind of sucks that my vote didn’t go toward the Electoral College vote,” Brooke P. from Illinois said. 

“But I do really think it’s important to get my voice heard in the popular vote,” she added. 

In terms of what they would do to change the current system of government, most said they wanted to keep the structure of government as it is, yet at the same time some said they would like to reform the Electoral College. 

Towards the end of the webinar, participants were asked what message they would give to fellow Gen Zers. 

By and large, the group encouraged those in their generation to participate in the democratic process yet urged them to inform themselves and make their own judgments on who to vote for rather than be swayed to vote a certain way based on outside influences such as the media. 

“I think it’s really important to do research and find out what you are passionate about and where you stand on things,” said Amelia J. 

“I think it’s important for everyone who is able to vote to go out and vote because I think it’s easy to sit back and complain about certain things, but if you’re not being an active member of society and doing your part, you can’t really complain about those things,” she continued.

“Voting is your right. It’s your duty as a citizen, and it’s definitely the best way to make your voice heard,” Alejandro P. from Florida said. 

He continued, “I think politics affects everyone… Choose who you want to be there and govern your country.” 

To view the webinar in the entirety and to hear Kristen Soltis Anderson’s key takeaways from the discussion, the webinar and post analysis can be viewed online. 

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