Young People + Voting

Young Voters Showed Up—Now Comes the Hard Part

Rajiv Vinnakota , President

December 5, 2022

C&S President Rajiv Vinnakota writes in the The Newark Star Ledger how we can impact the next generation of voters. 

Op/Ed: Gen Z voters showed up to vote. Now comes the hard part.

For far too long, the prevailing narrative has described Gen Z as uninformed, apathetic, and disillusioned. This election should put that myth to bed, once and for all.  

The votes of those under the age of 30 were decisive. With turnout estimated to be the second highest for a midterm in 30 years, young voters tipped the balance in critical races across the country, including in New Jersey’s closest Congressional contest and for U.S. Senate and Governor in Pennsylvania.  

There are more than 40 million eligible voters nationwide under the age of 30, but it is not just their numbers that make them influential. Young voters are traditionally less strongly identified with a political party, and more likely than those in other age groups to decide how to vote to close Election Day. While they are often among the voters most up for grabs, they are also among the least likely to be contacted by candidates or campaigns seeking their vote. Despite their political power, young voters are chronically overlooked by candidates, political parties, and media covering not just campaigns but civic life generally. 

Gen Z is composed of digital natives, able to connect quickly with others, and seek and share information widely and virally. They are laser-focused on the future and embody a sense of self-empowerment that civic change is possible—and necessary. However, they are losing faith in our institutions, from media to tech companies, and are deeply skeptical of elected officials. For many of them, the verdict is out on whether democracy can deliver.  

For today’s young people, voting is just a first step. Eighty-three percent of young people believe they have the power to change the country, but many lack the resources and experience to help them participate and lead. The nonpartisan, nonprofit organization I lead helps to fill that gap. We awarded Civic Spring Fellowships and funding to young people under the age of 25 doing the hard work of civic engagement in their communities.

In Elizabeth, participants brought together by Groundwork Elizabeth engaged youth voices in the city’s development of its 10-year Master Plan, including development, transportation, housing, and community health issues.

In Newark, through the Newark One Stop Career Center, young people researched and documented life during the COVID-19 pandemic through a mix of art, research, policy briefs, advocacy training, personal narrative writing, videography, and photography.

These young leaders—and others in our network across the country—from Chicago’s South Side to rural West Virginia—demonstrate the power, voice, and civic leadership that can be the hallmark of the next generation.   

Real Talk with First-Time Voters

Two first-time voters give C&S President Raj Vinnakota some advice for adults wanting to encourage young people to vote and be civically engaged.

The future of our democracy depends on Gen Z continuing to develop into civically informed and engaged citizens. All of us, not just candidates, would be wise to cultivate this large and persuadable bloc and pay attention to the issues that matter to them. They will soon be the standard bearers for our democracy. 

But Gen Z will only vote in future elections and in growing numbers, if we show up for them between campaigns. Here’s how you can do your part:   

  • Everyone: Provide Gen Z the civic education, leadership opportunities, and tools they need to participate actively in their communities.
  • Schools: Advance freedom of expression on your campuses.  Teach all to understand and empathize with different points of view.
  • Businesses: Offer flex time for voting and recruit employees to serve as poll workers.
  • Community organizations: Increase opportunities for volunteering, national service, and service-learning.
    Policymakers: Encourage more involvement in local government, including running for local office.
  • Parents: Model having tough and reflective conversations on topics and public issues that matter.  Share multiple media sources with your children.
  • Neighbors: Pass Gen Z the mic, listen, welcome opportunities for them to lead, offer the support they need, and partner with them to strengthen democracy.

Young voters were critical to the outcome of close races in this election. We are all responsible for how they participate going forward, and that will determine the course of our democracy for decades.   

Read the article.

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