A new generation of voters will impact the outcome of North Carolina elections in 2024. The big question: Will they turn out, and which party will they vote for?
The cohort in question — Generation Z — is those born between 1997 and 2013. This generation is roughly 72 million individuals. An analysis by the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement predicts that 41 million members of Gen Z will be eligible to vote in the 2024 presidential election.
Data from the NC Board of Elections show that 13% of registered voters in the Tar Heel State fall in the 25-years-old and below range, for a total of 953,720 voters. Of those, 27% are registered Democrats, 22% Republican, and 49% unaffiliated. The data are current as of the Oct. 10 election.
A new report from the American Enterprise Institute sheds light on the political leanings of this generation — finding that the generation leans liberal, but not necessarily Democratic. For the nation as a whole, 32% are Democrats, 21% are Republican, and 29% are independents. Sixteen percent identify as “something else.”
On political ideology, 39% identify as liberal, 32% as moderate, and 26% as conservative. However, there is a noticeable gap between men and women, particularly for whites: 46% of Gen Z women are liberal, while 28% of men are. In contrast, 36% of Gen Z men identify as conservative, compared to 26% of women.
The AEI report compared that gender divide to past generations — including Millennials, Generation X, and Boomers — and found that there wasn’t as great a divide.
There is also a sizeable gender gap based on whether men and women call themselves feminists. Sixty-one percent of Gen Z women identify was feminist, compared to 43% of men. That 18 percentage point gap is the largest of any recent generation going back to Boomers, who had a 12 percentage point gap.
The gender gap doesn’t surprise Dr. David McLennan, a political science professor at Meredith College in Raleigh.
“In the most recent Meredith College Poll, a majority of Gen Z males had a favorable view of former President Donald Trump, while almost 70% of Gen Z females had an unfavorable view of the former president,” McLennan noted. “Even on issues like abortion, there is a significant gap with a large majority of Gen Z women disapproving of the new abortion law in NC, while almost half of the Gen Z males approving of it.”
The real issue for young voters in 2024 will be turnout, according to McLennan.
“As the AEI survey indicated, this group is more pessimistic about the future than their older counterparts and feel like the political system has failed them,” he said. “The large percentage of young voters that register as unaffiliated voters is evidence that many do not believe in the two party system in the United States. If their pessimistic feelings continue until Election Day 2024, we may see a lower turnout of young voters, as compared to 2020, which might bode poorly for President Biden’s reelection chances.”
According to data from Dr. Michael Bitzer, professor of politics and history at Catawba College in Salisbury, turnout rates for Gen Z in the 2020 election in North Carolina closely mirrored those of Millennials. Turnout for Gen Z was 61% and 62% for Millennials. That compares to 86% for Boomers and 70% for Generation X.
Another issue could be whether Gen Z will be motivated to turn out in an election cycle that could feature two older men — Trump who will be 78 on Election Day and Biden who will be 81. Biden is currently the oldest sitting president.
“In terms of the rematch of two elder politicians, that is where the crux will be felt: in particularly, can Joe Biden or other Democrats truly motivate Millennials and Gen Z voters to show up or will the candidate’s age be a drag on motivation and energizing?” said Bitzer.