New Report Reveals What Issues Motivate Gen Z and Their Future Priorities
WASHINGTON, D.C., February 6, 2023 — Building on expansive research to help better understand Gen Z and elevate their voices, Murmuration and the Walton Family Foundation today released a research report on how to best engage them in the political arena. For the past year, the foundation and Murmuration partnered with SocialSphere, whose founder John Della Volpe is the director of the Harvard Youth Poll and author of Fight: How Gen Z Is Channeling Their Fear and Passion to Save America, researching Gen Z (ages 15-25) about their attitudes and perspectives on a range of key issues.
Murmuration and the foundation launched an extensive research project to learn more about how Gen Z experiences education, mental health and politics – and whether they feel optimistic and prepared for success in the future. Conducted immediately following the 2022 midterm elections, the research indicates that young voters share little common ground with older generations on K-12 education issues. While about half of all voters (including 50% of Gen Z) reported that school safety and security were top of mind – beyond this issue, the generational divides were stark. Younger voters were far more likely to indicate that mental health support and teacher pay were prominent issues for them, whereas older voters rated parental involvement and transparency and gender or sexual policy as the next most important after school safety.
Gen Z also expressed concern that parents, mentors, teachers, employers and older generations more broadly are unable to understand or, worse, are dismissive of the depth of their struggles. Moreover, the research indicates that the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated Gen Z’s mental health challenges.
- Gen Z is about twice as likely as Americans over 25 to battle depression and have feelings of hopelessness.
- Gen Z is three times as likely (21%18% to 7%5%) to say their challenges are so severe that they thought they might be better off dead.
- One-fifth (20%) know someone who committed suicide.
“Gen Z is unlike any other previous generation and, given their potential to influence a positive future for public education and civic engagement in this country, they should be viewed as an integral audience for all who are trying to help shape debate and effect change in this country," said Emma Bloomberg, Founder and CEO of Murmuration. “It is clear that Gen Z has the potential to transform the American political landscape, and our society more broadly, in the decades ahead.”
Underpinning their perspective is how they place value and loyalty toward particular issues over party identification and the importance they place on maintaining democracy above all else. The research revealed that Gen Z didn’t identify with one party significantly more than another:
- Democrat 30%
- Republican 24%
- Independent 28%
Digging deeper we learned even a smaller subset of Gen Z voters considered their allegiance strong to either the Democratic party (15%) or Republican party (12%).
“Gen Z are values-first voters, which is why it’s critical that anyone seeking to engage with them invest in listening and understanding their lives today – and the circumstances in which they were raised,” said Della Volpe, the study’s director. “Even at this early age, Gen Z has shown itself to be a generation of pragmatic problem-solvers – and no political party should take their vote or participation for granted.”
On issues, Gen Z not only ranked reproductive rights (29%) as their top concern when filling out their ballot, but also was the only generation to rank the issue above the economy and inflation (12% combined). Because of their alignment on issues, young voters played a role in Democrats outperforming expectations, especially in battleground states. The post-election survey indicated:
- Nationally, Gen Z progressives were more likely to vote (61%) than moderates (43%) and those who are, or lean, conservative (41%).
- In battleground states, Gen Zers were 8% more likely than those in other states to turnout (51% vs. 43%).
“Reimagining education – to be more relevant, engaging and rigorous – depends on building our understanding of Gen Z and finding ways to collaborate with youth to drive change,” said Romy Drucker, Director of the Education Program at the Walton Family Foundation. “While this generation is frustrated with the pace and scale of change on important issues, they remain optimistic that it’s possible. We all have a responsibility to live up to that aspiration.”
This research project was led by SocialSphere’s John Della Volpe, the director of the Harvard Youth Poll (but it is not affiliated with Harvard). The post-election research project included exit polls with n=606 voters including n=151 18-29-year-olds across the country, six focus groups with 18-40-year-old registered voters, four of which were conducted with those voted in the midterms and two with non-voters, a national survey with n=3,227 15-25-year-olds and n=1,036 adults 26 and older, and a series of conversations with high-school and college students in markets across the country.
Click here to read the full report.
Murmuration’s mission is to transform the politics of K-12 public education. We believe that electoral, organizing and advocacy work is key to creating a sustainable and growing base of voters and other stakeholders, especially in marginalized communities, and elected officials who are committed to fighting for an equitable and high quality public education system. By providing data, tools, research and strategic guidance to our partner community, we believe that we can create a sector that is best positioned to make long term, systemic changes to public schools possible. Creating an equitable and high-quality public education system will pave the way for generations of children to reach their fullest potential.
To learn more, visit www.murmuration.org.
About the Walton Family Foundation
The Walton Family Foundation is, at its core, a family-led foundation. Three generations of the descendants of our founders, Sam and Helen Walton, and their spouses, work together to lead the Foundation and create access to opportunity for people and communities. We work in three areas: improving K-12 education, protecting rivers and oceans and the communities they support, and investing in our home region of Northwest Arkansas and the Arkansas-Mississippi Delta.
To learn more, visit www.waltonfamilyfoundation.org and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
About John Della Volpe
John Della Volpe is the founder and CEO of SocialSphere, a public opinion research firm in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He is also the director of polling at the Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics, where he has led the institute’s polling initiatives on understanding American youth since 2000. The Washington Post referred to him as one of the world’s leading authorities on global sentiment, opinion, and influence, especially among youth and in the age of digital and social media. Della Volpe is author of the critically acclaimed FIGHT: How Gen Z is Channeling Their Fear and Passion to Save America. He’s a NBC News and MSNBC contributor and appears regularly on Morning Joe. To learn more, visit www.johndellavolpe.com or on Twitter @dellavolpe