The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Hill

Five myths about Generation Z


Generations happen when a group of people coming of age share the experience of living through certain historical events. Values naturally emerge. They inform worldviews and ways of thinking that are carried for a lifetime. Along with these patterns, however, come generalizations and inaccurate stereotypes.

As I describe in my recent book about the values of Generation Z and how they will shape America for decades to come, here are some common myths about this unique generation:

Myth #1 — They’re snowflakes 

Donald Trump’s first attorney general once described Gen Z as a band of “sanctimonious, sensitive, supercilious snowflakes.” Nothing could be farther from the truth.

While every generation has its share of angst and turmoil, no generation in at least eight decades has been confronted with more chaos more quickly than the 70 million Americans I refer to as “Zoomers.” Born in the shadow of September 11, millions lost their homes to the financial crisis. Lockdown drills and school shootings made once safe places dangerous.

Next was the whiplash of Trump’s election, white nationalism, an opioid epidemic, global warming, threats to our democracy, and COVID-19 — all of this accelerated through social media and landing on Zoomers’ laps before their brains fully developed.

Rather than melting like snowflakes, they became stronger, more resilient, and determined to fight for better days. They took on the gun lobby after Parkland and made climate change a focal point of the 2020 presidential campaign. Their fight for racial justice, sparking anew after George Floyd’s murder, created a national reckoning impacting every industry, from politics to the National Football League.

Myth #2 — They don’t vote

It was once fair to claim that young people talk a big game but rarely back it up at the polls. This take has been more or less borne out for most of the last 40 years. Then Generation Z entered the scene.

According to the U.S. Elections Project, in 2018, when Gen Z joined the electorate, youth turnout in the Congressional midterms doubled the historical average.

This trend continued in the 2020 election for president, where again, Gen Z shattered participation records. Generation Z outvoted every other generation when they were young, including millennials, Gen Xers, and baby boomers.

Without their record levels of participation and a strong preference for Joe Biden, Donald Trump would be serving a second term.

Former President Trump won the vote of Americans age 45 and older in every critical battleground state. Biden’s victories in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin were powered by the double-digit margins of voters under 30.

Myth #3 — They seek policy perfection

Elected officials eager to stand up for young Americans and/or protect their left flank in primaries believe issues such as federally legalizing marijuana and cancelling all federal student loan debt are make-or-break youth issues. For example, the logic goes that that without wiping every penny of $1.6 trillion off the balance sheets of 43 million Americans, institutional trust will further erode and turn Gen Z apathetic and less likely to participate in important elections.  

From studying young voters for more than two decades, I found that they are values-first and not transactional voters by nature.

Zoomers prioritize fairness and justice. They understand that their vision for America will take decades, not days, to achieve. If they see honest efforts and progress in addressing the systemic inequities they care most about, they are often willing to compromise on specific policy prescriptions in the short term.

The Harvard IOP youth poll often finds more nuance on these subjects than many expect. In 2020, we reported that only one-third of Zoomers support canceling all debt when the options presented included canceling debt only for those most in need (17 percent), helping with repayment (36 percent), and not changing current policy at all (13 percent).   

Myth #4 — They’re all socialists who hate America

Despite the notable and loyal support Zoomers offer democratic socialists Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), the political ideology of Gen Z is far closer to center-left than far-left. Yes, it’s a challenge for them to remember when they felt proud to be American, but let’s not forget that Zoomers have not been alive long enough to experience a genuinely united nation. Older generations will keenly recall the Moon Landing, the “Miracle on Ice,” the fall of the Berlin Wall, or President George W. Bush and his bullhorn atop the rubble of the World Trade Center after 9/11. 

A plurality (39 percent) of Zoomers self-identify as liberal or moderate-leaning left; nearly a third as conservative or conservative-leaning, with the remaining 29 percent straight-up moderate. In the spring 2020 Harvard IOP youth poll, only about a quarter were comfortable anointing themselves democrat socialist, and only three-in-ten indicated support for socialism.

With the word “patriot” co-opted temporarily by a political movement that supports overthrowing free and fair elections, Zoomers profess their love of country by working in myriad ways to make it better and more sustainable for themselves and future generations.

Myth #5 — They’re addicted to technology and can’t handle face-to-face interactions

Actually, most Zoomers believe life was better before social media, and only 17 percent strongly agree that they are addicted to platforms like TikTok, Snapchat, Twitter and Instagram.

Of course, there are plenty of reasons to be concerned about the expansive and intrusive ways of technology, but this is not a zero-sum game. I am beginning to find a renewed sense of personal agency and an ability of Gen Zers to speak up for themselves, especially in defense of the vulnerable. For at least four years, I have been detecting Zoomers unafraid to use their voice for schoolyard justice, in their workplace, and in their personal lives.

Let’s set aside our preconceived notions and stereotypes. Let’s listen, engage, and be a positive force in the lives of what could well be America’s next great generation. Generation Z will surely benefit, as will we all.

John Della Volpe is the author of “Fight: How Generation Z is Channeling Their Fear and Passion to Save America.” He also serves as the director of polling at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics and is the CEO of SocialSphere, Inc.

Tags Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez baby boomers Bernie Sanders Demographics of the United States Donald Trump Generation Z Joe Biden Millennials Zoom

Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

More Campaign News

See All
See all Hill.TV See all Video

Most Popular

Load more


See all Video