Dec 14, 2019 - Politics & Policy

Deep Dive: 2020's new voters will usher in an age of demographic transformation

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Data: Census Bureau 2017 Population projections. Note: Data includes non-citizens, who would not be eligible to vote; Chart: Danielle Alberti/Axios

First-time 2020 voters will usher in a wave of demographic transformation — a remaking of the American identity that's projected to crest in the 2040s.

What’s happening: Millions of Generation Z Americans— those born after 1996 —will be able to vote for the first time next year. The 2020 census, redistricting and elections will begin to reveal population changes that will empower new voices and reshuffle the swing-state map and both parties' bases.

In November, for the first time:

  • Americans born after the 9/11 attacks will be voting for a president.
  • Gen Z will surpass the Silent Generation's share of the electorate.
  • Hispanic Americans will surpass black Americans as the largest racial or ethnic minority voting group.

By the numbers: Gen Z is projected to make up one-tenth of the 2020 electorate, according to Pew Research Center. Put them together with millennials and these youngest generations will be 37% of eligible voters next year. Those who will be old enough to vote for the first time next year will be:

  • Less white: Just 53% of potential first-time voters are non-Hispanic white people — down 11 percentage points from the rest of the voter-aged population, according to U.S. Census projection data. (Data includes non-citizens.)
  • More Hispanic: Nearly a quarter of 18-21 year olds in 2020 are projected to be Hispanic, compared to 16% of the rest of American adults, according to census data.
  • More educated: First-time voters are more likely to be pursuing college and have parents with college degrees.
  • Urban-dwellers: 54% will have been living in or near a central city rather than a rural area, according to IPUMS Census data from 2017. That's up from 44% of millennials when they were that age.

Politically, Gen Zers appear to be "similar to millennials," with "their liberal attitudes and their openness to societal changes," Pew's social trends director Kim Parker told Axios.

  • Getting the 24 million eligible Gen Z voters to the polls in 2020 could be critical for Democrats. But young people are much less likely to show up on election day than older voters.
  • While Gen Z is civically active, candidates will have to overcome the generation's lack of faith in politics as a driver for change, said Jonah Stillman, co-founder of the consulting firm Gen Z Guru.
  • His generation has never seen "an example of any political initiative that is not operating under complete and total polarization."

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