'I See This As a Big Turning Point': Gen-Z Voters On Their First Time at the Polls

Illustration for article titled I See This As a Big Turning Point: Gen-Z Voters On Their First Time at the Polls
Photo: Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images (Getty Images)

As absentee and early voting rolls out across the country, I’ve found myself thinking about one group of individuals in particular: kids voting for president for the first time in their lives. As covid-19 has changed the way people vote, and our sitting president has consistently delegitimized this year’s voting process, I wanted to know what it felt like to experience this very weird and unprecedented presidential election as someone who has never had the opportunity to vote in one. Were zoomers nervous? Hopeful? Totally cynical? Jezebel spoke with a handful of college students about the issues that matter to them this election and their faith in this country’s electoral process.

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These responses have been edited and condensed for clarity.


Carla, 18, North Carolina

I voted the first date of early voting. To me it was like Christmas or [how] you look forward to that school field trip all week. I was very determined to vote especially because I’m voting at college and this county is pretty half and half, so I wanted to make sure that my vote counted here [because] it wouldn’t necessarily count in a fairly red district back home. The more this administration has continued to roll back human rights and civil rights, I just think it’s an incredibly appalling administration, the more eager I was to try and vote him out.

I voted for the Biden-Harris ticket, even though Biden was not in my top three initially in the primaries. Now I would be a Bernie Sanders voter if we were to run it all again today, but [at the time] I voted for Elizabeth Warren. I wanted my vote to be progressive and, to me, it was important that it would be a woman. It’s settling for Biden-Harris, but I’m not saying the administration doesn’t have its pros. I think the campaign was just too moderate for what I was looking for. But I believe we can push for the change we want to see, whereas we’re not getting that currently. [The issues] for me are equality in an equitable society for everybody, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion, any of that, and environmental policy. I think that climate change has become more central issue recently, which it absolutely should be.

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Jai, 19, Florida

[Voting for the first time] was exciting and nerve wracking at the same time. My grandparents really wanted me to vote so I was excited to make them proud. It was cool to share that experience with my grandparents because I had no idea we were on the same political side. I voted for Joe Biden because I like his policies, especially on immigration. I’m Hispanic, so I really want the immigration policies to be fixed and also climate change. I would say that’s one of the most prominent things that my friends and I have looked for in a candidate, somebody who would focus on climate change and take it seriously.

I want a president who knows how to handle this pandemic and who will actually pay attention to scientists, that goes for coronavirus and climate change, and who will actually listen to people around them. One of my biggest concerns about the election is a rise in cases of white supremacy. If you see any chart out there, you’ve seen that since Trump got elected white supremacy has skyrocketed. It’s something very concerning to me. I wasn’t expecting much out of Trump’s presidency, but I didn’t expect all of this. I’m hoping with Joe Biden that things get fixed.


Jesus, 20, Texas

I identify kind of as a leftist, so I know that ideally not all the problems are going to be fixed by voting. But still with what’s going on it would be a waste not to use my vote. Initially I wanted to vote for Bernie Sanders, but the Democratic Party didn’t want him because they wanted someone who would be more generalized for moderate Democrats. But [Biden] has gone around and he’s identified some of the things I appreciate, like the free college for two years, cheaper health care, while the other opponent is trying to get rid of health care as we speak.

It just shows you everything when the Senate [doesn’t] want to discuss financial help for those who need it for coronavirus, but they’re willing to rush a [Supreme Court] nominee while we’re over here like, wait, we haven’t been helped. Their priorities are out of whack. Recently there have been articles about [Amy Coney Barrett] and how she doesn’t even know the first amendment. I’m like, girl [laughs], the citizenship test has questions on that. If someone wants to be a citizen of the United States they need to know that, why shouldn’t a judge who’s gonna be there for life? Then Trump said he would give money [for covid-19 assistance] after we vote for him. That’s emotional blackmail. People’s lives are at stake right now, literally. So it’s time to start learning more and educating myself on what I have and what other people don’t and what I can do to help.

Where I’m from, in the Rio Grande Valley, there are a lot of Trump supporters, and they’ve been verbally violent to people. I have a Biden sticker on the back of my car and I’m afraid Trump supporters are gonna get violent, because I’ve seen videos of that before. I’m also concerned with Trump losing and if he doesn’t want to leave. It’s a valid concern because he keeps talking about it for some reason.

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Liam, 19, Florida

When I was in my senior year of high school I was 17 and that was the 2018 election, the midterm elections. And I really, really wanted to vote, especially in Florida, where Bill Nelson and Andrew Gillum really came down to the wire and every vote truly did matter. My friends got to vote and I just had to sit back couldn’t do anything. It really felt kind of humiliating in a way. [Voting now] I felt like in that moment I was participating in something greater than myself.

I wouldn’t call myself extremely progressive, but a lot of [Biden’s] policies are progressive. His stances on coronavirus, for example. I want life to go back to normal just as much as everybody else and I feel like by having someone who is competent in office, I feel more confident that life can return more quickly back to normal. Coronavirus, climate change, and race issues going on America are the most important things to me and why I’m voting the way I am. I really like politics, I’m constantly refreshing RealClearPolitics and 538. I understand that there are a lot of people who are skeptical about polls but I’m feeling good. I genuinely see this as a big turning point and I don’t really see a reality where Trump can pull off this win. And I feel confident that a lot of people my age feel the same and will want to go out and vote.

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Dani, 20, Georgia

I was really excited to vote. I have wanted to vote since I knew I could vote, but I wasn’t able to in the 2016 election, I was too young. I was also very excited that this year marks the 100-year anniversary of women gaining suffrage, with the obvious caveat that it was white women. But at the same time, just with everything that’s been going on this past year, constant headlines about voter suppression throughout the U.S., I’ve been nervous about it. Nervous about if my vote would even end up counting, if it would even matter. Those are the two extremes: very excited to finally get to exercise that right, but also very cynical towards how things have been going recently in the U.S.

If Bernie had been running, I would have voted for him, but I don’t vote third party when I can. A lot of the issues that Biden is running on his platform are issues that I identify with. There’s like three major deal breakers [for me], one of the biggest ones is human rights, so the Black Lives Matter movement, LGBTQ+ issues, and women’s issues, specifically reproductive rights. My other one would be healthcare, with [covid-19], we have seen the fault of our health care system and so I am a big proponent of universal health care. And then my last one, because it affects not only us in the United States, is just worldwide climate change. Candidates that either don’t address it, don’t believe it, I don’t support. 

I don’t have a lot of trust in the electoral process. I don’t trust the Electoral College, I don’t think it represents citizens votes properly. I think there needs to be a real reform in the way we address voting, [with] the fact that so many people don’t feel comfortable or don’t trust it. We should all be comfortable and trust worthy of our voting system, and I feel like a lot of people aren’t. Like I said, this being the 100th year of women’s suffrage, there are people who have not had that right for nearly as long. And so I just think it’s so important that we as citizens exercise this right, since we have it. It’s one of the few times we really get a chance to get out there and have a voice.

Pop Culture Reporter, Jezebel

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DISCUSSION

73vk13
Sandwich Librarian

It is nice to see young people engaged in the process, and it is especially good to hear from young allies in swing states, but let’s not get the idea that all young voters are thinking like the rest of us.