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Gen Z Voters Say They Are Opting Out of the 2024 Election

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Gen Z Voters Say They Are Opting Out of the 2024 Election​

In a matchup between Biden and Trump, many young voters say they might choose silence.​

By Fortesa Latifi
January 16, 2024
A voting booth with an American flag on the side


Jim Vondruska/Getty Images

For the first time since he became eligible to vote, Elias, 26, isn’t going to cast a ballot for president in the next election. Lillian, 20, hasn’t decided whether she’s going to vote or not. Lia, 28, is going to leave the spot for “president” blank on her ballot. And Zach, 22, is having a hard time convincing some of his friends that their vote matters.

After a record-breaking youth turnout in 2020 helped decide the election for President Joe Biden, a recent poll released by the Harvard Kennedy School shows that young Americans seem less likely to vote in 2024 than they were in 2020. According to the poll, at this point in the 2020 election cycle, 57% of Americans between ages 18 and 29 were planning to vote; that number has since declined to 49%. Though Gen Z voters prefer President Biden over his likely challenger, former president Donald Trump, only 35% of this demographic approves of Biden’s performance as president.

Given that young voters helped secure a win for Biden in 2020, lower youth-vote turnout in 2024 could change the outcome of the election. Still, some left-leaning young people have decided to abstain rather than vote for Biden or the Democratic Party, a candidate and a system some say they simply cannot support.

The first time Elias voted, it was 2016, when he reported to an elementary school polling place near his college campus. He was proud to cast his vote and perform what he saw then as his civic duty. For the upcoming election, however, Elias says he isn’t going to cast a vote for president, partly to send a message to Democrats, who he believes don’t take their voters’ preferences into account. “I think power is a language that they understand, and by refusing to put them into power, we’re forcing them to listen to us,” he explains. “They can’t… plug their ears and turn their heads away.”


Elias, who is Palestinian American, has a laundry list of issues with the current administration that have pushed him to this point, including sales of new oil and gas leases and Biden’s support of Israel. For Elias, the deciding moment came when Biden cast doubt on the Gaza Health Ministry’s reported death tolls. “I just found that to be truly monstrous,” he says. “It’s something I cannot cosign with my name and my vote.”

While some Gen Z voters say they are choosing to abstain from voting because of Biden’s support for Israel and their own support for Palestine, it’s worth noting that the Republican Party has become strongly pro-Israel in recent years. If voters spurn Biden for being pro-Israel, will they unintentionally hand the presidency to someone who may be less sympathetic to Palestinians?

For Elias, the answer to this hypothetical question depends on expectations. “We don’t have any illusions about who the Republican Party is or what they stand for. We know they’re dangerous for our communities,” he says. “The logic of not voting for Joe Biden in 2024 is that the Democratic Party is supposed to be accountable to young people and diverse communities.”

Zach, a political science major from Florida, views the act of voting as unequivocally important. But the same can’t be said for some of his friends, he tells Teen Vogue,who feel like their vote doesn’t matter. Part of that narrative is the fact that Florida, which used to be considered a swing state, has given its Electoral College votes to a Republican candidate in every election cycle since 2000, other than Obama’s wins in 2008 and 2012. When Zach talks to some of his friends about voting, they say it’s a waste of time because they feel like the winner has already been decided.

So where does that leave Zach? “It makes me feel sad because I remember, especially in the 2022 midterms, people were saying the younger generation saved democracy,” he says. “And now… maybe [young voters] can protect democracy in 2024? I see [people choosing not to vote] as crazy. Why do you not want to vote?”

Joshua Martin, a 21-year-old college student and political director for College Democrats of America, says the focus needs to be not only on registering voters but on actually getting them to the polls. Part of that effort, Martin adds, is simplifying the message: “[I’ll say], ‘Hey, you want to buy a house after college, right? You want to have a good-paying job after you graduate, right? You want to be able to have access to health care?” When Martin speaks to his fellow college students, he says he tries to keep his language spare. For example, instead of talking about Roe v. Wade, which can be confusing for someone who isn’t super politically aware, he’ll talk frankly about abortion rights. He’s frustrated by the possibility of lower voter turnout, but he believes there is time to change the tide.

Lillian, a college student in New York, is undecided about voting this year. She’s been disappointed by the Democrats on so many issues, including Biden’s promise to forgive $10,000 of student loans, which was ultimately struck down by the Supreme Court; the party's neglecting to further efforts to codify abortion; and the president’s support of Israel.


And then there’s the Electoral College. For Lillian, it’s difficult to feel like her vote matters in a state that has gone blue since 1980 and a rural county that generally swings red. "The whole [voting] thing is a symbolic gesture,” she says. “If we had a more direct voting system, I would participate more. The Electoral College is scum.”

Lillian adds, "And it’s not that young voters are too lazy to get to the polls — it’s deeper than that. It’s hopeless [to us],” she says. “The collective vibe is hopelessness.”


Tom Bonier, an experienced pollster and CEO of the TARA Group, says these polls are illuminating. “What it clearly shows is that young voters are experiencing some sense of disillusionment with our politics right now,” he explains. “Whether or not [the polling] translates into [actual] lower turnout remains to be seen. I think politicians… should be concerned if this [young] generation doesn’t see our political process as a viable means of changing the world for the better.”

When reached for a statement, a representative for the Biden campaign tells Teen Vogue that, while the campaign is not taking the youth vote for granted, they are not alarmed by the polling. The campaign representative also says they aren’t particularly worried by the lack of support of young voters over Biden’s stance on the Israel-Hamas war, as polling has shown that young voters are more motivated to vote based on issues that are important to them, “which are economy, climate change, guns, and abortion,” as opposed to foreign policy.

Lia voted for Biden in 2020, but is considering withholding her vote in 2024 because of what she sees as the disappointing outcomes of his presidency. She doesn’t agree with Biden about funding Israel’s war on Hamas, and she’s saddled by student loans the president said he would forgive. “It felt like kind of a con,” she says about then-candidate Biden’s proposal to forgive $10,000 of student loan debt per borrower. “I don’t want to vote for Biden. I want a better option.”

London, 24, doesn’t want to hear a guilt trip for not planning to vote in the 2024 presidential election. It won’t work, she says, and stop telling her that Biden is the lesser of two evils because she’s tired of that argument. “Every four years we’re told to choose the lesser of two evils and things will get better,” she says. “And it just doesn’t get better.”


What are the ethics of not voting? From the time we’re young, many of us are told it’s our civic duty to vote, to make our voices heard. But what if young people feel the only way their voices will be heard is through their silence? Will the silence be loud enough to create actual change in how the Democratic Party approaches the youth vote in future elections or will it serve only to hand Trump four more years in power — and feed the narrative that young people don’t vote, thus shifting the power of the electorate more to older generations?

The young voters who plan to skip the ballot box in 2024 are seeking disruption — and an answer to a question: Will their silence be noticed? Or, in an imperfect system, is voting still one of the best ways to make their voices heard?
 
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