With the constant news coverage, political discussions and heated protests surrounding this year’s election, it’s hard to believe that Americans still have two months to go until the election.
Regardless of your opinion about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, we’re witnessing the most publicized election in United States history.
The widespread dissemination of election details — good, bad and ugly — has resulted in an interesting situation: Even people unable to vote are forming opinions about the election and spreading their beliefs.
Furthermore, the interaction between the ubiquitous platforms of communication and our sharing culture has led to unprecedented levels of political awareness in many teenagers and young adults.
Affectionately nicknamed Gen Z, this demographic, ranging roughly from ages 12 to 21, is largely composed of individuals who are not old enough to vote but who are nevertheless very important in the legal process.
Here are a few reasons why Gen Z has the potential to affect the direction of the elections.
Weapons of Mass Communication
One of the most defining features of teenagers today is their nearly unanimous possession of smartphones, and their constant use of social media and the internet.
Never before has the general populace had this much communicative power at the tips of their fingers.
With these far-reaching tools and platforms at their disposal, Gen Zers have access to worlds of information, including the current American political process.
Check any social media platform and you’ll be flooded by politically charged comments and opinions from people of all ages.
The combination of freedom of speech and the availability of platforms conducive to mass communication has resulted in more teenagers and young people than ever flocking to the internet to voice their opinions on various political issues.
The sheer number of political statements on social media these days can be staggering, and it might be easy to think that individual messages get lost.
However, certain messages become highly influential and can cause social media–specific shockwaves like trending topics and hashtags.
Gen Z may not be able to physically cast a vote at the ballot, but the wide-reaching communicative power they possess more than makes up for their disenfranchisement.
The great extent to which they use social media to voice their opinions is, in a way, an alternative, more public form of casting a vote.
Two Sides of the Same Coin
When speaking about Gen Z, it is often stressed that they have tools for mass communication at their disposal.
However, it is not emphasized nearly as often that the businesses, brands and people they follow are also users of the same far-reaching devices. In reality, they are just two facets of the same services.
The presidential candidates and their campaign managers are avid users of social media because of the relative ease with which it spreads awareness of their personal brand.
With politicians publicly espousing their policies and plans, anyone who is connected online can hear their message and respond directly.
Everything is out in the open. For example, anyone can see Donald Trump’s many tweets, and anyone can respond with his or her own agreements, criticisms or personal opinions.
Due to this easy access to information, Gen Z is more politically aware than the preceding generations were at their age.
What Do They Say at Home?
Most Gen Zers live with their parents, and it would be reasonable to connect their political leanings to the beliefs held by their parents and guardians.
From a young age, people tend to internalize and retain whatever messages or opinions they hear from their parents or whoever they live with.
Therefore, it’s only natural for the political beliefs, enthusiastic support for one candidate and vitriolic hatred for another to pass from the older generation to the younger.
Those members of Gen Z with more outspoken sources of information may also be more willing to excitedly extol or fervently protest against certain politicians.
However, if the beliefs of parents and children clash, those teenagers may feel more compelled to publicly state their opinions as a kind of release.
On the internet, a statement of opinions will at least garner support or agreement from someone.
No matter which of these situations is present, Gen Z’s impressionable minds and political awareness foster an ongoing public dialogue about policies, principles and the presidential candidates.
Who Said I Couldn’t Vote?
Although technically unable to vote, members of Gen Z are not barred from stating their preferences for candidates or dissenting against others.
Politically aware from a young age and constantly updated on politics, Gen Z possesses the technology and the influence to cast a “digital vote” of sorts.
From forming movements on social media to bolstering the beliefs of those before them, Gen Z holds tremendous political power — power that is possibly strong enough to sway the presidential election itself.