Opinion | 2024 won’t be a Trump-Biden replay. You can thank Gen Z for that.

Opinion | 2024 won’t be a Trump-Biden replay. You can thank Gen Z for that.

Celinda Lake, a Democratic Party strategist, was one of two lead pollsters for Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential campaign. Mac Heller is a documentary film producer, most recently of “Rigged: The Voter Suppression Playbook.”

It’s easy to envision the 2024 presidential election becoming the third straight contest in which a veteran Democrat goes up against Donald Trump. Once again, the Democrat wins the popular vote but swing states are tighter. Could go either way — and has, right?

But things are very different this time, and here’s why: The candidates might not be changing — but the electorate has.

Every year, about 4 million Americans turn 18 and gain the right to vote. In the eight years between the 2016 and 2024 elections, that’s 32 million new eligible voters.

Also every year, 2½ million older Americans die. So in the same eight years, that’s as many as 20 million fewer older voters.

Which means that between Trump’s election in 2016 and the 2024 election, the number of Gen Z (born in the late 1990s and early 2010s) voters will have advanced by a net 52 million against older people. That’s about 20 percent of the total 2020 eligible electorate of 258 million Americans.

And unlike previous generations, Gen Z votes. Comparing the four federal elections since 2015 (when the first members of Gen Z turned 18) with the preceding nine (1998 to 2014), average turnout by young voters (defined here as voters under 30) in the Trump and post-Trump years has been 25 percent higher than that of older generations at the same age before Trump — 8 percent higher in presidential years and a whopping 46 percent higher in midterms.

Similarly, though not as drastic, we have seen a 7 percent increase in voter registration among under-30 voters since Gen Z joined the electorate. In midterm elections, under-30s have seen a 20 percent increase in their share of the electorate, on average, since Trump and Gen Z entered the game.

Yet Trump is not the deciding factor for these voters. When pollsters ask why, Gen Z voters say their motivation is not a party or candidate. It is, instead, strong passion on one or more issues — a much more policy-driven approach than the more partisan voting behavior of their elders.

That policy-first approach, combined with the issues they care most about, have led young people in recent years to vote more frequently for Democrats and progressive policies than prior generations did when of similar age — as recent elections in Kansas, Michigan and Wisconsin have shown.

In last August’s Kansas abortion referendum, for example, women under 30 turned out at a rate of 41 percent and helped win the contest. A similar Michigan abortion referendum brought youth midterm turnout to 49 percent — and 69 percent of voters younger than 30 voted to put abortion rights protections in the state constitution compared with just 52 percent of voters 30 and older. Michigan voters elected Democratic majorities in both state houses for the first time in years, and reelected their Democratic governor, attorney general and secretary of state.

While American voters historically have tended somewhat to become more conservative as they age, no one should expect these voting patterns to change drastically. About 48 percent of Gen Z voters identify as a person of color, while the boomers they’re replacing in the electorate are 72 percent White. Gen Z voters are on track to be the most educated group in our history, and the majority of college graduates are now female. Because voting participation correlates positively with education, expect women to speak with a bigger voice in our coming elections. Gen Z voters are much more likely to cite gender fluidity as a value, and they list racism among their greatest concerns. Further, they are the least religious generation in our history. No wonder there’s discussion in some parts of the GOP about raising the voting age to 25, and among some Democrats about lowering it to 16!

There are lessons — and warnings — here for both parties. For Republicans, the message is obvious: Listen to the voices of this soon-to-be-dominant group of voters as you formulate your policies on climate, abortion, guns, health care, inclusion and everything else. Unlike some older voters, they are listening to what you say — and to how you say it. Change your language and style from the unmitigated male id of “Never Back Down” and “Where Woke Goes to Die” to words of community, stewardship, sharing and collaboration. That’s the new patriotism, and young voters believe that approach will solve problems more effectively than what they’ve seen over the past two decades.

There are stark messages for Democrats, too. Meet young voters where they are: on social media, not cable news. Make your messages short, funny and somehow sarcastic yet authentic and earnest at the same time. Your focus should be issues first, issues second, candidates third and party identity never.

A final word of warning: Both parties should worry about young voters embracing third-party candidates. Past elections show that Gen Z voters shop for candidates longer and respond favorably to new faces and issue-oriented candidates. They like combining their activism with their voting and don’t feel bound by party loyalty. And they can’t remember Ross Perot, Ralph Nader — or even Jill Stein.

We suspect both campaigns know most or all of what we have written here. Habit might prevent them from acting on it, but they have these numbers. In one of life’s great ironies, the group that doesn’t know it is young voters. They think of themselves as ignored, powerless and marginalized in favor of big money and shouting boomers. But over the next year, they’ll figure it out. Gen Z will tire of waiting for Washington to unite to solve problems, will grab the national microphone and will decide the 2024 presidential race.

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Hood Over Hollywood Mature (the beauty standards from the maturing woman-next-door).

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