Generation “Z”wing

With Higher Turnout, Young Voters Can Elect Biden

By the Socio-Economic Research & Tech Team. Analysis: Catherine Ravenscroft; editing: Jim Flood.

With roughly 24 million eligible voters across the country, 2020 is shaping up to be the year Generation Z (the generation born after 1996) becomes a major electoral force. To see how this young generation could affect voting margins in key battleground states, we determined the number of eligible Gen Z voters by state — encompassing registered voters and those currently unregistered — and projected how many would be expected to vote given turnout thresholds of 10%, 20%, 30%, or 40%.

Total number of eligible Generation Z voters in each U.S. ZIP code. Data source: U.S. Census 2018 (5 year).

Comparing potential Gen Z votes for Biden to the margins for Clinton vs. Trump in 2016, we found that as low as 10% turnout of all eligible Gen Z voters could help Democrats flip Pennsylvania and Michigan, and a 20% Gen Z turnout would be enough to flip Wisconsin and Florida. 30% of Gen Z voted in 2016, when a far smaller number — approximately 9 million — were eligible to vote.

Our scenarios assume potential 2020 turnout rates for Gen Z eligible voters of 10%, 20%, 30%, and 40%, because actual turnout will likely be within this range. In the 2018 midterms, 4.5 million votes were cast by Generation Z, representing nearly 25% of its 17 million eligible voters at the time, though just 4% of the total votes cast.

A survey of Gen Z registered voters in January 2020 found that roughly 22% approved of Trump; 78% disapproved. Our estimates assume 75% of Gen Z voters will cast a vote for Biden, with the remaining 25% voting for Trump. Due to his mishandling of the pandemic and the acute economic impact on younger workers, it’s possible the president’s favorability with this age group has fallen even further in recent months.

Age data, US Census 2018 (5 year). We used the margins from the 2016 presidential election (Difference Clinton-Trump votes). We then calculated potential outcomes for each state based on Gen Z eligible voters turnout of 10%, 20%, 30%, and 40%.

Relative to older generations, Gen Z is more diverse, progressive, and strongly opposed to Trump’s stances on climate change and immigration and his record of stoking racial tensions. Americans in this age group lived through the 2008 financial crisis and a pandemic-induced recession before they’ve even turned 25. Many face an uncertain economic future, saddled with crushing student debt and limited job prospects.

All of our data indicates that Democrats should not take Gen Z votes for granted. Without meaningful outreach and engagement on the issues they care about, a high enough turnout of Gen Z voters might not materialize. A key way to reach them is through social media platforms because of the amount of time and attention they command, as well as their remarkable ability to amplify content very quickly. To reach Gen Z voters on the social media channels they consume most, Hawkfish activates networks of influencers, memers, and digital volunteers to post customized content that drives engagement and turnout.

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