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Gen Z: Politically Leaning to the Left

FILE - Rep. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., center, poses for a selfie with high school students at an event put on by the Asian Community Development Council in Las Vegas, Sept. 29, 2018.

One in a series on Generation Z.

The newest designated generation — Gen Z — is skewing more liberal than previous generations, according to multiple sources, including Pew Research Center.

Most youths in any generation tend to think and vote closer to center and left than their elders, as people tend to become more conservative as they age, said William Frey, a senior fellow and demographer at the Brookings Institution. But Gen Z — including self-identified Gen Z Republicans — show political tendencies that align closer to Democratic ideologies, Pew reported.

In a report by news outlet Axios earlier this year, a majority of self-identified Gen Z Republicans said the government should be doing more to solve problems, a contrast from Republicans of other generations, who typically eschew government intervention.

While Gen Zers are projected to make up roughly 10% of the 2020 electorate, they will comprise 27% of the 2031 voting age population, according to Pew and Frey.

If the younger Republicans remain consistent in their beliefs as they get older, they have the potential to shift the Republican Party toward a more liberal ideology, Axios reported.

“It’s traditionally been the case that generations get more conservative as they get older,” Frey said. “But Gen Z is so different that even if they do become a little bit more conservative than they are, they’re going to probably change our politics and how we will act as a society.”

FILE - From left, Tameka Spence, Shelley Jackson, Karen Hernandez and Francisco Lopez talk following a demonstration where they and others voiced their opposition to a local city initiative, Aug. 20, 2019.
FILE - From left, Tameka Spence, Shelley Jackson, Karen Hernandez and Francisco Lopez talk following a demonstration where they and others voiced their opposition to a local city initiative, Aug. 20, 2019.

The top three voting issues for Gen Zers as of November 2018 were mass shootings, racial equality and immigration policy, according to the Harris Poll given exclusively to Axios. Those rankings were compared with generations X (1965-1980), baby boomer (1946-1964) and silent (1928-1945), which chose a different top three, including access to health care, terrorism/national security and the national debt.

Most Gen Zers were born only vaguely aware of 9/11, when terrorists crashed passenger airliners into the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon in Washington, and a field in Pennsylvania on Sept. 11, 2001, killing nearly 3,000 people.

Most millennials, which follows Gen X, and all older generations experienced 9/11 and the Afghanistan and Iraq wars as politically conscious adults, when fears of terrorism and a desire for strong national security were at their highest.

According to the Harvard Public Opinion Project (HPOP), of eight possible foreign policy priorities, terrorism was the important issue to 17.1% of Gen Zers surveyed, compared to nearly 30% of millennials, who put terrorism as their first foreign policy priority.

What is more scary to Gen Zers is climate change. Gen Zers are coming of age during a time when the U.S. and the global population are increasingly hearing about and experiencing the effects of climate change and global warming. Six of 10 students age 18 to 22 named climate change as an important and stressful issue to them.

“Given current concentrations and ongoing emissions of greenhouse gases, it is likely that by the end of this century ... the world’s oceans will warm and ice melt will continue,” according to the U.N. 2018 climate report. “Average sea level rise is predicted as 24-30 cm by 2065 and 40-63 cm by 2100. Most aspects of climate change will persist for many centuries even if emissions are stopped.”

Over 70% of the Gen Zers polled by HPOP agree that climate change is a problem; 66% said it demands urgent action.

Gen Zers said they believe that climate change needs to be a foreign policy priority, not just a domestic one. While millennials generally support action on the climate issue, they still prioritize terrorism over environmental protection in the foreign policy realm, according to the HPOP.

“I think we’re going to be a very different country in this century than we were in the last century, and largely because of this younger generation and their racial diversity, and their different attitudes about social issues,” Frey said.