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Culture

Gen Z Is The Most Politically Engaged Generation, But They Don't Know What They're Fighting For

By Meghan Dillon·· 6 min read
Gen Z Is The Most Politically Engaged Generation, But They Don't Know What They're Fighting For

We hear a lot about how colleges and universities indoctrinate their students with Marxist ideas and worldviews.

Marxism has been marketed as cool and chic. It's even pushed in teen magazines now. It's common to post about your politics on social media and even choose your friends and partners by political association. The Americans of decades before would be horrified. What's even more concerning is that this young generation of Americans not only puts the most stock in their political views as an identity, but they know the least about the political ideals they're promoting.

With the rise of political social media, lack of civics education, and an increasingly divided country, it can be difficult for young people to learn the facts about our political system, in order to actually understand the ideals they're promoting.

Civics Education

I remember having to take a semester of government in high school as a requirement to graduate. Though it was only a semester, it was immersive and taught us everything we needed to know from how to interpret political satire, to how to vote, to the beliefs of different political parties. I was one of the lucky ones as 10 out of the 50 states and DC don’t require at least a semester of civics or government to graduate high school. 

It also doesn’t help that young people aren’t very knowledgeable about history; a recent study found that  almost two-thirds of young voters didn’t know that 6 million Jews died in the Holocaust. It’s important to acknowledge that the Holocaust isn’t a distant historical event; it ended in 1945.

10 out of the 50 states and DC don’t require at least a semester of government to graduate high school. 

One factor in this educational gap is that government and history classes are often assigned to teachers who don’t have a background in those subjects, like athletic coaches or any teacher who needs one more class to fulfill their commitment to the school. 

The lack of history and civics education leads to teens entering adulthood unaware of the political landscape, often causing them to seek out education through unreliable sources and to consume misinformation.

News and Social Media

A recent study showed that 61% of daily news consumption by young voters (Gen Z) comes from social media. Since Gen Zers are less likely to use Facebook, the main social media outlets used for news are Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok. Though all three platforms can be problematic with misinformation, many mainstream and trustworthy news outlets have platforms on Instagram and Twitter, but TikTok is different because it’s more difficult to verify what’s true and what’s false.

Some of the most popular political TikTok pages are collaborative, such as the Republican Hype House, which has 904.6K followers, and the Democrat Hype House, which has 192.8K followers. A lot of the content on both of these pages consists of creators reacting to headlines with their own thoughts or trending audio. The problem with this is that headlines are sometimes misleading or incomplete, often leading viewers scrolling through TikTok to believe what they see at face value instead of researching fully it themselves. 

Many of these creators use the app for educational purposes, as a creator of the Democrat Hype House told NBC News: “I started my political TikTok in around February or March. That’s when I really started to dive into it because I knew that I was going to vote in this election. I might as well educate myself, and I feel like if I didn’t have TikTok I’d be a closed-minded conservative and vote for who my parents are voting for.”

“If I didn’t have TikTok I’d be a closed-minded conservative and vote for who my parents are voting for.”

TikTok is changing how teens and young adults digest news, as one political TikTok creator told The New York Times“I do feel like TikTok is cable news for young people. CNN and Fox and big-name news media, those are all geared toward people who have honestly grown up with a longer attention span.” 

This also plays into the divide between younger voters and experienced voters who are more familiar with platforms like Twitter, as well as the divide between progressive and conservative politicians. Ioana Literat, assistant professor of communication and media at Teachers College at Columbia discussed this phenomenon in an interview with The New York Times

Literat said, “I’ve noticed this tendency recently, not only on older social media like Twitter but also in the press. It plays into larger debates about youth civic attitudes — and especially youth civic attitudes online — which tend to verge between utopia and dystopia. On the one hand, youth are hailed (or tokenized — think Greta Thunberg and the Parkland youth) as the future of democracy, for whom political expression comes easy. But on the other hand, people are worried about how they don’t show up at the polls, or fall prey to misinformation, or don’t care about newspapers anymore. And all of these are true; it’s not an either/or kind of situation.”

Political Identity Crisis

It only takes a few minutes of scrolling through political TikTok to notice how passionate these teens and young adults are about politics. Though it’s nice to see young people take an interest in politics, the support for some of these politicians is akin to someone loving their favorite band or sports team.

This happens on both the Right and the Left. Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump have loyal fan bases among first-time voters. Though it’s obvious that Sanders had won over the hearts of the youth during his candidacy, Trump teens are active too. The Students For Trump Instagram account has 716K followers and has thousands of photos of teens and young adults expressing their love for President Trump.

There are no issues that are widely considered top priorities by both Democrats and Republicans today.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing inherently wrong with being passionate about supporting your chosen political candidate. The problem comes when a love for one’s favorite candidate or party becomes the center of one’s identity. This enthusiasm for political candidates also exacerbates our culture’s love of identity politics and doesn’t help with healing the divide between Republicans and Democrats. 

Generational divides are growing. Though both Millennials and Generation Z have similar views on social issues and the role of government, Generation Z appears to be more progressive. New generations tend to be more progressive than their predecessors, which doesn’t help with the political divide. According to Pew Research, there are no issues that are widely considered top priorities by both Democrats and Republicans today. With teens and young adults becoming more attached to their political parties, the divide is likely to continue to grow.

Closing Thoughts

Millions of teens and young adults will be casting their first vote during the 2020 Presidential Election. Though they’re the most politically engaged group of first-time voters our country has seen in a long time, it’s also important to acknowledge the amount of misinformation they have at their fingertips and that we should all be discerning about the news we’re consuming.

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