For the citizens of the United States, the looming event that is the 2020 presidential election is impossible to miss. Plastered across national news with grabbing headlines, voters are more informed – or misled – than ever before. However, there is a rising majority of voters that is expected to influence the outcome of this election.
The new presence of Generation Z (commonly known as Gen Z) will comprise a remarkable 37% of eligible voters in the United States. They have been outspoken about various controversial topics like gun regulation, the Me Too movement, and Black Lives Matter. In addition to the conversation about the election within its border, international eyes have turned to the United States in the past year as more and more controversy and division grows between voters, yet the niche of Gen Z international views has largely been overlooked and uninvestigated.
Despite previous beliefs about young voters being uneducated or uninformed on political matters, they are on the whole currently more informed than ever. With the new medium of technology as a way of consuming breaking news, people everywhere are updated and informed on political matters. In addition, Gen Z grew up with the advancement of technology and learned from a young age how to navigate and use apps and websites much more adeptly than other generations, like the Baby Boomers. As a result, they are educated and informed by-the-minute as platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat release news from all corners of the country and world.
Sara Izquierdo belongs to Gen Z, and is a graduate student at the University of Puerto Rico, studying law. Previously, she left the island and attended Ohio University for four years and saw the differences in culture and politics. Although Puerto Rico is only a territory of the United States, it is heavily impacted by the politics of the country despite not having any voice or vote for themselves within the government. Prior to the 2016 election, Izquierdo says that a sizable amount of Republicans in the country were in support of Trump’s presidency. However, after the devastation from Hurricane Maria, Trump’s visit to Puerto Rico included throwing paper towels at the citizens as a form of support – and many Puerto Ricans were offended and upset by this gesture, among others.
Within the demographics of the island, Gen Z has their own way of pushing back against the politics within Puerto Rico as well as overseas in the U.S. “Gen Z doesn’t necessarily support a candidate, but rather social movements, which is really the only way to be involved in American politics,” says Izquierdo about Gen Z preferences in Puerto Rico.
Izquierdo says that much of the younger population, including some millennials, initially supported Bernie Sanders for the ticket, despite not having a vote in the election. Within Puerto Rico, Trump has not been helpful in the ways that matter to locals. Izquierdo’s cousin, a senior in high school, is an exemplary student looking to attend college in the States. Originally, she was looking at UNC Chapel Hill and other southern universities. But after seeing controversy and sensing overt racism, she is no longer considering it due to her dark complexion and Latino accent, which she worries will make her a target for discrimination.
Gen Z are typically involved in some sort of political or social movement. The emergence of social media makes it easier to stay updated on different organizations and campaigns. For example, the destruction in Puerto Rico after the hurricane was covered in traditional news outlets, but many Gen Z social media users were able to share websites and links for direct relief for Puerto Ricans. At the same time, many of their citizens are still waiting on aid from the federal government.
“To put it in context, the poorest state in the United States – Missouri – has a 23% poverty rate. Here in Puerto Rico, we have poverty at 43%. There has to be massive restructuring of the way money flows in order to have more equality in the social strata and people around my age are cognizant of that, they’re aware of that,” says Izquierdo. “And they know that someone like Trump who really doesn’t give a damn about welfare is not gonna give us the tools that we need to address our most intimate and pressing issues, which is social equality or economic equality.”
Although not every member of Gen Z will feel the same, the age bracket and its activist and socially utopic tendencies have largely taken to imagining a different America. In a usual election cycle, Gen Z’ers would be low in representation at the ballot box, but the current US context is so uniquely politicized that it would be no surprise for the group to turn out in record numbers. This previously ignored section of society could well turn out to be a crucial constituent base come Nov 3rd.
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