As the oldest members of Gen Z turn 26 this year, this group of young people (born between 1997 and 2012) is increasingly becoming a prominent part of the voting and advocacy landscape. Advocacy organizations must adapt their communications to engage a younger audience and craft campaigns with multi-generational appeal.
The 2022 midterm election saw historically high numbers of Gen Z voters, and this demographic is passionate about many social and political issues. Gen Z advocates have unique perspectives and experiences, as they’ve grown up in a world shaped by technology, social media, the aftermath of 9/11 and the 2008 financial crisis, and COVID-19. Read on to learn how to engage Gen Z advocates and voters for your organization.
Does Gen Z Care About Social and Political Issues?
It’s a common myth that Gen Z doesn’t care about social and political issues, according to Robert Schentrup, organizing manager at Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence and a member of Gen Z who works with many other students from his generation. VoterVoice clients have been receiving younger demographics to their action centers in recent years, with nearly 11 percent of traffic coming from ages 18-24 in 2022 and 16 percent from ages 25-34, according to our upcoming 2023 Advocacy Benchmark Report (see the 2022 version of the report here).
“This assumption that young people are ultimately disengaged from the political system could not be more untrue,” says Layla Zaidane, president and CEO of Millennial Action Project. “Young people are more engaged and more involved than ever.”
Gen Z is engaged about the issues that are important to them, but Gen Z political engagement might look different than it did for previous generations. “We don’t have the same mindset about the role of work in our life,” Schentrup says. “A work, life, and mental health balance is very important to us, and burning people out can really harm your movement.”
Zaidane agrees that the problems Gen Z wants to solve can feel overwhelming, and their passion can result in mental health challenges and other forms of burnout. “For advocacy organizations to achieve meaningful results, it is crucial to keep young people engaged in our democracy, but we also need them to have the capacity to stay in the fight,” she says. “Because of this, organizations should carefully consider the infrastructure and conditions required to foster endurance, resilience, and confidence in Gen Z’s political and social activism efforts.”
Top 10 Tips to Boost Your Advocacy Efforts Using TikTok
Learn how to leverage TikTok to help your advocacy organization reach its goals.
Congress is Getting Younger
The 118th Congress is the third oldest since 1789, with an average age of 58. Their average age is much higher than the median age of 38.8 years in the United States, according to 2021 Population Estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau. “People in power are staying in power instead of allowing it to cycle naturally,” and Gen Z are ready to take a leadership role in government, Schentrup says.
But Congress is beginning to skew younger. Of its 435 members, the House has 64 members born in the 1980s — almost doubled from the previous Congress. The first Gen Z member of Congress was elected in 2023: Maxwell Frost, age 26, is the Democratic U.S. Representative for Florida’s 10th Congressional District.
“MAP recently tracked a 170 percent increase in Gen Zers serving in elected offices this past cycle,” Zaidane says. “Their path to office demonstrates their political engagement: the first Gen Z member of Congress wasn’t an influencer, he was an organizer.”
”We have a great moment to mobilize Gen Z, but if they feel like their actions aren’t worthwhile or they aren’t being prioritized, they’ll stop participating.Robert SchentrupOrganizing manager, Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence
Why Organizations Need Gen Z for Advocacy
Investing in Gen Z is an important way to keep the next generation of voters and advocates engaged. This generation is engaged and voting, and organizations would do well to empower them to continue in that.
“If you don’t listen to us, empower us, or care about our interests, we’re going to disengage,” Schentrup says. “We have a great moment to mobilize Gen Z, but if they feel like their actions aren’t worthwhile or they aren’t being prioritized, they’ll stop participating.”
Gen Z and Millennial voters had high levels of turnout in the 2022 midterms. A report found that young voters in heavily contested states exceeded their 2018 turnout by 6 percent. In 2022, Gen Z and Millennial voters grew in number, accounting for 26 percent of registered voters.
“Democracy depends on it; America’s survival depends on it,” says Rachel Pearson, president of Pearson & Associates. “Their point of view really does matter — they need to be engaged, they need to care, they need to understand that while the process is slow, it’s slow for a reason.” Millennials and Gen Z will be a majority of potential voters by 2028, according to Brookings.
Gen Z Political Engagement: The Issues They Care About
When it comes to Gen Z politics, recent American Student Assistance (ASA) surveys show that 70 percent of Gen Z say they’re passionate about mental health issues, followed closely by racial justice (63 percent), gender equality (55 percent), and climate change (52 percent), shares Julie Lammers, senior vice president of advocacy and corporate social responsibility at ASA. However, only about a quarter of those who expressed a passion for an issue said they would get involved in it because they feel unable to make a difference.
Schentrup says his age group “sees it as our responsibility to address a whole litany of problems” that were not addressed in previous generations. “A lot of members of Gen Z are angry,” he adds. “We assumed adults knew what they were doing, but instead they left us with a giant mess.”
Frustration With Slow-Moving Policy
This frustration is a driving force that animates this generation. “Gen Z realizes someone else isn’t going to do this for us,” Schentrup says. “If change is going to happen, we’re the ones that need to do it.” This motivates Gen Z to want to make big, transformational changes in policy.
It also means Gen Z can be discouraged by slow-moving policy and reticence to sweeping change. “Going slow is still failing,” Schentrup says. “Making progress in a non-transformational way is still not enough.”
But public policy decisions are very complicated, says Pearson. “How do you get a full picture of anything through TikTok?” Pearson says Gen Z needs to recognize that it takes time to understand the full scope of a policy issue.
“Gen Z loses the multi-generational understanding of the difference between experience and immediacy,” Pearson says. “It takes a long time to learn how committees and legislation pass and to build relationships and trust.” The need for immediacy is a societal problem, not specific to Gen Z, but Pearson says it’s important that younger advocates understand how things work and why they can take time to avoid frustration.
Growing Gen Z Activism: How to Engage Younger Advocates
The biggest question to answer for a Gen Z audience is: “Why should I care?” More importantly than understanding why your idea is good, or why your cause is important, Gen Z wants to know why they should care enough to act.
To figure out how to do that, there’s no one better to ask than members of Gen Z themselves. “To ensure that their message and strategies resonate with this demographic, organizations should seek input from their Gen Z coworkers, volunteers, and contacts,” Zaidane says. “If they don’t have a network of Gen Z individuals, building one should become a top priority.” Understanding your audience demographics can help you refine your message and increase your impact as you segment and target your communications.
Ultimately, it’s vital to treat younger advocates like you would treat any other adults. “Pandering down or paternalizing us is unhelpful,” Schentrup says. “Treat them with respect and understanding, and ground that within your messaging.”
”To ensure that their message and strategies resonate with this demographic, organizations should seek input from their Gen Z coworkers, volunteers, and contacts. If they don't have a network of Gen Z individuals, building one should become a top priority.Layla ZaidanePresident and CEO, Millennial Action Project
Connect via Text
While 65 percent of Gen Z consumers say they prefer to receive communications via email, text messages are a more certain way to ensure they see your message, Schentrup says. “Engaging via text has been our most successful way to communicate with our membership.”
Text messaging continues to rise in popularity for advocacy campaigns and is an excellent way to reach advocates. More than 6,460,000 advocacy text messages were sent by VoterVoice clients in 2022. Action rates for SMS in 2022 were the highest ever for this channel at 2.2 percent, according to our upcoming 2023 Advocacy Benchmark Report (see the 2022 version of the report here).
Educate to Engage
Gen Z wants to be involved but often doesn’t know where to start, Lammers says. Gen Z activism statistics from ASA research show that 62 percent of Gen Z are passionate about changing the world for the better, but a smaller percentage (56 percent) believe they can. “Our charge is to give them the tools and resources to turn their passion into action,” Lammers says. “We need to give them information, the skills to learn how to advocate for themselves and others, and a platform for their opinions to be respected and heard.”
Gen Z activists need education about issues, especially because they “exist in a very binary world of opinion,” Pearson says. “When you talk to them, explain how public policy works in a way that the media doesn’t — they start to get a fuller picture of it, and their immediate instincts about partisanship start to fall away.” Pearson advises giving young voters and advocates more “color and texture” around an issue rather than the black and white they often get on traditional and social media. “It’s hard to find that kind of conversation for all Americans right now,” she says.
Having tools and resources are important because, based on ASA’s survey of more than 2,000 teens, around three in 10 teens say they don’t have enough information or the necessary tools to make a change on the issues that matter to them. However, three in 10 are confident that the causes they support will see changes/improvement in the next five years, and between 30 and 42 percent of teens feel petitioning elected officials will lead to change on each of these issues.
”The fact is, there is a certain amount of humility that we need to acknowledge that Gen Z knows best what Gen Z wants and what their friends will respond to. We can advise and guide based on our own experiences, but we must also listen, value their input, and appreciate that they also have experiences that we may not have had.Julie LammersSenior vice president of advocacy and corporate social responsibility, American Student Assistance
Give Gen Z Activists a Role
Gen Z activists want agency and the ability to take meaningful action on the issues they care about. “They want help weighing choices and considering many options, but they don’t want to be told what to do,” says Lammers. “What they are looking for instead is information and tools, including resources that help them effectively advocate for the issues and causes they care about.”
Getting input directly from the demographic you want to work with is essential for any advocacy team. “Gen Z does not want to be talked to about issues, they want to be talked with about them,” Lammers says. That’s why ASA consulted with a nationwide panel of middle and high school teen advisors and had them pick designs, logos, fonts, names, and resources that resonated best with them.
“The fact is, there is a certain amount of humility that we need to acknowledge that Gen Z knows best what Gen Z wants and what their friends will respond to,” Lammers adds. “We can advise and guide based on our own experiences, but we must also listen, value their input, and appreciate that they also have experiences that we may not have had.”
Harness Social Media
Social media has an immense impact on how Gen Z views themselves, the world, and the issues they care about. An ASA study found that virtually all of Gen Z (97 percent) say they use at least one social media platform daily. TikTok and other social media platforms are certainly drivers of action, bringing 11 percent of traffic to VoterVoice clients’ action centers in 2022, according to our upcoming 2023 Advocacy Benchmark Report (see the 2022 version of the report here).
“Authenticity serves as a driving force for action among Gen Zers; however, this sentiment often translates to organizations increasing their digital presence without giving careful thought to the most authentic approach for their activism,” warns Zaidane. “Gen Zers obviously love their digital platforms, but that is only because they provide a platform for real people and real stories. To meet young people where they’re at, both the platform and the stories need to look and feel relatable.”
In order to ensure social media strategies are effective, Zaidane recommends prioritizing Gen Z in their efforts by getting them on staff and as volunteers, and remembering that the most compelling and validating resource for Gen Z is a personal testimony.
Gain Multi-Generational Support for Your Issues With VoterVoice
Leverage cutting-edge technology and fuel your advocacy efforts with VoterVoice, the only data-driven advocacy platform on the market that integrates with ChatGPT. Thanks to that injection of AI, VoterVoice makes it easier to take action with pre-populated contact details, understand your campaign successes (and opportunities for improvement) with peer benchmarking, and drive engagement with AI-powered suggestions. Get more data about your audience to tailor content to their interests and drive meaningful engagement.
With VoterVoice, your organization can more easily educate and activate the right stakeholders, target efforts, and work more productively with greater results, at every stage, from a single system.
Ready to see for yourself?
See how our 360-degree approach to managing advocacy and policy issues can help you promote action, manage risk, as well as assess your impact and drive results.