A C+ is better than an F. At least that’s what a recent post by the group calling themselves “settle for Biden” says. This group has gained traction through Instagram and Twitter, advertising themselves as a “youth-led group of ex-Sanders/Warren supporters working to make Trump a one-term president.” Maybe it’s because this is my first time voting, but settling for a C+ doesn’t sound good to me.
But this sentiment of ‘settling’ won’t stop Gen Z from wanting to make an impact. A study by Morning Consult found that although young people hold less faith in governmental institutions, they believe they can change their future. Only 19% of Gen Z believes the US is headed in the right direction, but 62% of Gen Zers believe they can change the world. Forbes has even called Gen Z “more powerful than any other generation.”
So with Gen Z being one of the most active generations politically, do they feel like they have to settle in their first election? And if so, how does this impact their view of voting?
Social Media’s role in the election
In the past four years, social media has taken on a huge role in activism. As any Gen Zer will tell you, having access to thousands at your fingertips is powerful. Generation Z, anyone born after 1996, is not content waiting for their time in office. Instead, most young people are fighting for racial justice, protesting against current laws, and desperately trying to save the planet
For most of their lives, Gen Z has had access and awareness to information unlike any other generation. Charlie Nichols, an 18-year-old from DC, discussed the value of social media. He said, “I think Gen Z has more access to information than any other age group that’s living right now. No other age group is as active on social media as Gen Z.” Social media has the power to start conversations and also promote activism. “You can get petitions signed, you can start a Go Fund Me, you can post on your Instagram stories,” said Charlie. He also discussed how Gen Z subsequently has more reach due to their followers.
Social media has also given young people the space to find what they’re passionate about and connected them to organizations where they can volunteer. Ryan Sanghavi, a 16-year-old high school student from Massachusetts, has been using his voice on social media to spread information to his peers. He also started volunteering for candidates like Becky Grossman, running for the House of Representatives in Massachusetts, and Carolyn Bordeau, running for Congress in Georgia.
For the members of Gen Z who aren’t eligible to vote yet, there are still many differences to get involved. Ryan said, “Ever since the 2018 election when I saw the Kavanaugh hearings and the election that came right after, I wanted to find some way to get involved. Back then I was 14 or 15 and it seemed like it was really difficult to get involved.” Ryan then reached out to a politically-active peer, who told him to start dialing into phone banks, posting on social media, and volunteering on election campaigns. “I think that volunteering has even more of an impact than voting. You’re not getting one vote for your candidate, you’re dialing in to hundreds of voters,” said Ryan.
The Cost of Social media: Hyper-polarization
But there’s a price that comes with being able to share information with the click of a button. As social media becomes more widespread, information on candidates becomes more accessible, and increasingly hyperbolized to make headlines more eye-catching. Many people feel social media has humanized the candidates. Charlie says, “Social media has caused the divide to be even greater. There will be people who are like ‘if you’re voting for Trump, unfollow this account now and never talk to me again.’ I don’t agree with that.”
Because many people refuse to listen to the other opinion on issues, social media may sort people into filter bubbles. Emily Orsheln, a student at the University of Virginia, believes that although social media has its benefits, it can sometimes feel like an echo-chamber in terms of political views. In a study by the Pew Research Center, only 14% of Americans report changing their minds because of something they saw or engaged with on social media. She said, “Because Instagram is so far skewed to the left, it more acts as a positive influence on those beliefs.” She added that Instagram has, however, done a good job of promoting voting regardless of political affiliations.
The Current Political Climate in the 2020 Election
This campaign cycle feels different for many people, with candidates tending to focus on the negatives of the other candidate rather than the positives of their own campaign. Listen to just five minutes of the first presidential nominee debate for further evidence. Jake Tapper, a political analyst on CNN said after the debate, “That was a hot mess, inside a dumpster fire, inside a train wreck,” he adds, “One thing for sure, the American people lost.” This sentiment was echoed by many on twitter. Both Trump and Biden were seen arguing, interrupting, and trying to discredit the other.
For Charlie, this political climate feels different than any past election. Though he hasn’t voted before, he has been active in politics for as long as he can remember. “I think the last election where I was totally for a candidate was 2012 and 2008,” he said. He voiced that he feels frustrated that for his first election being able to vote, he feels unhappy with the candidates. However, he feels he has no other option than to vote. He said, “Some of my friends are DACA kids that have been directly affected by policies [Trump] has made. He really has impacted my life and my friend’s life in a very negative way.”
Emily agreed that voting feels extremely important this year, more than ever. “I think there’s definitely a lot of pride that comes with voting, especially since our current president is so polarizing. Young people are fired up about change and making a positive impact and I think voting is one way you can do that.” However, do Gen Z feel that they are voting out of necessity and obligation rather than support?
Settling and the Anti-Vote
With issues like climate change, immigration, gun control, and health care being debated in this election, some Gen Z voters may feel that because they don’t like a candidate’s views, they will vote for the candidate’s opposer. This tactic called the anti-vote gained popularity in 2016, with some people voting for Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump because they disliked the other canidate. The Anti-Vote has become a more popular concept in this election cycle.
Charlie commented on this sentiment, saying ‘Having that hatred for the president, getting him out of office is all that really matters to me. Anything’s better than that. So while Biden doesn’t completely identify with my core set of ideals, he’s not against them. This year, that’s enough.” Charlie dislikes the word ‘settle’ instead using the word ‘fight’ for Biden.
This year, the “Settle for Biden” campaign tries to normalize the anti-vote. Ryan, who identifies as a progressive Democrat, said that while Biden did not appeal to more progressive voters at first, this campaign makes it clear that if you choose to vote for anyone besides Trump or Biden, you are throwing away your vote because third-party candidates don’t usually get enough votes to be competitive. Ryan commented, “it’s no longer about finding a candidate that matches 100% what you believe, it’s about finding a candidate who matches you as close as any candidate in the race with a chance to win and will bring your ideas to the table, even if it’s by a different approach or bill.”
However, this tactic has ostracized some more moderate voters. Kiley Flynn, a student at Trinity College, feels like the campaign has had a negative impact on her opinion of Biden. “That campaign just makes me think why would we ever have to settle. The fact that we have to settle makes me not want to vote for Biden. If we have to ‘settle’ that’s implying that there are so many negatives.”
Kiley voiced her general discontent with the entire anti-vote system, saying she feels like she has to settle either way she votes. “I feel like our country shouldn’t have to settle. Why isn’t there a better option for either party?” said Kiley. For this reason, Kiley is hesitant to vote. She feels her policies more align with third party candidates because she doesn’t feel her opinions are represented in either candidate. She said, “I don’t feel like either candidate seems like a good fit. But I’m worried that if I voted for an independent party that it would just be throwing away my vote because they don’t normally win.” She also added that she doesn’t want to regret her vote either way, saying “I don’t want to make the wrong decision and then see us in four years and wonder why I voted for them.” Kiley said that if she votes, it will come down to a last-minute judgment call.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, do Republican voters feel they have to settle for Trump? Republican Emily Orsheln doesn’t have any hesitations about voting. She said she personally was hoping for Mitt Romney, but she said, “ Morally, I don’t agree with [Trump] and I think he’s gone off the rails a little bit, but politically I feel strongly about the candidate that I’m voting for.” However, she added that it’s disappointing to see all of the negative news on Trump. “I’m willing to settle for his morals because I know his policies align with mine. I see our president more as just a policymaker,” said Emily. She said that she has other role models in her life, and policies matter more than morals. She says, “At the end of the day it’s the bills that they pass and the policies that they create that is the reason they are in office.” So while she may be settling for his morals, she doesn’t feel like that impacts her vote.
The Bottom Line- Vote
A message shared by Charlie, Ryan, and Emily was how important it is to vote. In 2018, Gen Z voter turnout surpassed expectations, going from 20% in 2014 to 36% in 2018. In the 2020 election, all eyes are on the youth to see if they continue this pattern. Emily said, “If people get up and vote, I think that Gen Z truly has the potential to swing the election.” Charlie agreed, adding, “I guess a message that I want you to include is vote. I think it’s important that everyone exercise their right.” If you still need to register, there are many websites, such as Vote.org, that you can register online in under 2 minutes. For more information on your specific state’s guidelines, please visit your state government’s websites.
For Gen Zers who won’t be eligible for the 2020 election, there are many ways to get involved besides voting. Ryan said, “Even though you can’t vote, and 16-year-olds may not be able to vote for a long time, or even ever, I think that it’s very important that you realize that voting is not the only thing you can do to make a change in your democracy. A lot of my friends and I have been volunteering.”
So do your research on the candidates’ policies, register to vote, and even volunteer for a political campaign. The more work you put in today, the greater impact you will have on the policies of tomorrow.
Julia Temple is a recent high school graduate of Noble and Greenough School in Massachusetts. Julia will be starting Georgetown's School of Foreign Service in the Fall of 2021. She is currently taking a gap year focused on personal and professional development, volunteering, and travel. Julia discovered her passion for social justice and international relations through her work with Model United Nations and Journalism. In her free time, Julia enjoys reading science fiction books and walking her dog, Jolie.