Americans born in 1996 or after are known as “Generation Z.” Over the past couple of years, there’s been much speculation that Gen Z would emerge as a robustly conservative voting group. We saw headlines such as, “Why the generation after millennials will vote Republican,” and “Why Democrats Should Be Losing Sleep Over Generation Z.” And it was all wrong.
A new Pew Research Center study shows that on a host of issues, from climate change to American exceptionalism to the role of government, Gen Z is the most liberal age cohort the country has ever seen. What’s more, Gen Z Republicans are pretty liberal, too.
According to Pew, seven-in-ten members of Gen Z say that the government should do more to solve problems. Six-in-ten believe that forms asking about a person’s gender should include more options than “man” and “woman.” Fifty-seven percent say they’re comfortable referring to someone by a gender-neutral pronoun. Six-in-10 approve of the NFL national anthem protests. Fifty-four percent say climate change is linked to human activity. Thirty percent say there are other countries better than the United States.
On all these questions, Gen Z’s answers make them more liberal than Millennials, Generation X-ers, Boomers, and members of the Silent Generation. And those members of Gen Z who are self-proclaimed Republicans diverge sharply from older Republicans on a number of issues. They are more likely to believe that African-Americans are treated unfairly in the U.S., more likely to embrace diversity, and more likely to see climate change as manmade.
The report states: “Roughly half (52%) of Gen Z Republicans say they think the government should be doing more to solve problems, compared with 38% of Millennial Republicans and 29% of Gen Xers. About a quarter of Republican Baby Boomers (23%) and fewer GOP Silents (12%) believe the government should be doing more.”
Bigger government, gender fluidity, American un-exceptionalism—it’s a liberal tsunami. So why did some pundits get it so wrong? They argued that Gen Z kids were growing up with an awareness of problems like student debt and terrorism and that this made them inclined toward financial responsibility and hawkishness. But, in truth, to the extent that these kids were exposed to such problems, they only became acclimated to them.
They heard about the financial crisis and 9/11, but they still had round-the-clock access to dazzling technology. Thankfully, they didn’t experience the kind of historical scarcity that changes people for life. And they were physically safe. It’s certainly possible that they’ve grown up panicked about school shootings. But if that’s the case, they’re more likely to embrace gun-control solutions piped into their homes by popular media than to join the NRA.
The pundits claimed that Gen Z was less enamored of celebrity because there was so much of it around. If anyone could be famous, the thinking goes, then it’s not so special. This, the pundits believed, would make members of Gen Z more down to earth. But it’s just as likely that they saw omnipresent fame as seductively obtainable.
In the end, it seems fairly straightforward. The culture has been drifting leftward for decades, and it’s logical that an ever more progressive culture would make for ever more progressive youth cohorts. In keeping with the old adage about being liberal at 20 and conservative at 40, perhaps Generation Z will come to embrace the stodgy values of their Millennial elders when they hit middle age.