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What young voters want in 2024

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

Younger voters - Gen Z and millennials - are becoming a bigger and bigger part of the political process. What exactly that will mean in 2024 is an open question. But NPR has a new reporter looking for answers to that question. Elena Moore will be covering new voters as part of our elections team, and she joins us now. Hey, Elena.

ELENA MOORE, BYLINE: Hello. I'm so excited to be here.

DETROW: So I paused reading that because I thought, do we still consider millennials young voters? And I say this as a proud elder millennial, geriatric millennial, will-ennial (ph), if you will. Am I still a younger voter? Like, how - who are younger voters? Who are we talking about here?

MOORE: I feel like you brought me here just for me to tell you that you're young.

DETROW: I appreciate it. Thank you.

MOORE: A younger voter can be many people. A younger voter could be you. It could be me. It could be Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who is famously a millennial. It could be Gen Z-er Olivia Rodrigo, the pop star. Technically, if you are part of Generation Z, you are born between 2013 and 1997. So for the millennial generation, that's anyone from 1981 to 1996. So it's a big group, and it's a growing group.

DETROW: Regardless of what generation we're talking about, the view, the stereotype of young voters for a very long time has been passionate, loud, don't always vote. Is that the case with the young voters we're talking about right now?

MOORE: I mean, not really. If you look at the last few major elections, young voters have really surprised people. Go back to even 2020. We're in the midst of the pandemic, and young voters show up. It was one of the highest turnouts for young voters since, like, the 1970s, when they lowered the voting age to 18. And not only did they show up in high numbers, but they overwhelmingly voted for now President Biden over Trump.

And then two years later, in the midterms, younger voters showed up, and they actually overwhelmingly still voted for Democrats. So in the last, like, 10 years or so, young voters have really exploded onto the scene and showed people, we're here, we're loud. And millennials and Gen Z are actually going to keep growing as a portion of the electorate. Next year, in 2024, they're going to make up about half, and then over the next 10 years or so, it's going to surpass 50%.

DETROW: We are talking about Gen Z and millennials here as collectively young voters, but many megabytes of internet content have been devoted to the fact that there are wide cultural differences between those two generations. I'm thinking about millennial voters who came of age in the 2000, the 2004, the 2008 presidential elections. And I feel like party identity was a big part of political engagement for millennials of that age. This is the era that red state and blue state was invented as a terminology and took hold. But listening to your reporting over the last few years, it has been very clear that Gen Z voters don't really see themselves that way. They might be very passionate about an issue, but they do not call themselves Democrats or Republicans. What's going on there?

MOORE: You're completely right. It's a completely different playing field for these people. They grew up in a time of very intense political division, and instead of having candidates that they really rallied around, it was issues. And I think about during these tragic mass shootings that happened over the last decade, young people kind of stepped up and became voices on gun violence. Young people stepped up and became voices on climate. And even more recently, after the Supreme Court issued the Dobbs decision that overturned the constitutional right for an abortion, young people rallied around abortion rights and showed up for Democrats because of abortion.

So I would say that this generation values issues over party, and we're seeing that in data. I mean, in the most recent Harvard Youth Poll, they found that actually, only about a third of young people actually identify with Democrats. Despite overwhelmingly voting for Biden, despite overwhelmingly voting for Democratic congressional candidates, really, only a third actually call themselves Democrats.

DETROW: Which is one of the many reasons why there's a lot of Democratic angst right now about whether Gen Z voters, in particular, show up for President Biden next year when he runs for reelection. I mean, how are young voters feeling about the president right now?

MOORE: Honestly, like, every time I go out and I talk to young people, it's like clockwork...

DETROW: Yeah.

MOORE: ...That President Biden's age comes up. It's either as a joke, it's a quip or it's, like, serious concern. And that's not to say they didn't vote for him, but there are a lot of issues that this generation is passionate about that some advocates say haven't been fulfilled yet.

DETROW: And let's talk about a big one of them - over the past two months, Biden's decision to support Israel in its war against Hamas, despite many - we've seen the polls, we've seen the protests - many young progressive voters being deeply opposed to Israel's military intervention, calling for a cease-fire. How big of a problem is it for Biden right now that so many people that he needs to vote for him next year are so mad at him?

MOORE: I mean, this is definitely a huge thing. I was out covering a demonstration organized by pro-Palestinian groups. I talked to some people who say that this support of Israel is the last straw for them. I talked to other people who don't go as far as that - one woman, Prachi Jhawar. She's 23 years old. And, again, she did not say she's not supporting Biden in 2024, but she said when she thinks about him running for reelection, it's very grim.

PRACHI JHAWAR: Gen Z cares so much about human rights as a movement, and to have our commander in chief not actually follow through with that and not support that is really disheartening.

MOORE: And, you know, what she's saying, she might not be alone in that. In a recent NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll, we found that 50% of Gen Z and millennials actually sympathize more with the Palestinian people over the Israelis, and that's the most of any generation.

DETROW: So the biggest question I have about your reporting is this trend line you've talked about, about the tension between voters who vote on issues but don't identify with parties. How does that work in an election that is very likely, at this point in time, to be an election that's a question of whether Donald Trump returns to the White House?

MOORE: Yeah. I think that young voters are wrestling with that already. I talked to one young woman named Sara Evangelista, and she is 29 and is a Jewish American and identifies as a Democrat. And we were talking about a range of things, but she told me she had kind of come to terms with the fact that even though she's a Democrat and has issues with her party and candidates within it, she knows that no candidate is perfect. She compared picking a candidate to picking out lunch.

SARA EVANGELISTA: As I look at a younger generation, they want someone who checks every single box for them. They want this satisfaction of getting, like, a Sweetgreen salad. The ingredients are perfect, and it is exactly what I want. And I know that that is not the case. There is not often a candidate or an elected official who gets it right with you 100% of the time, but they need to be reflective of your values most of the time.

DETROW: Guacamole greens for president.

MOORE: Going with a harvest bowl.

DETROW: Elena Moore, our political reporter covering new voters in the 2024 election. Thanks so much.

MOORE: Glad to do it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Elena Moore is a production assistant for the NPR Politics Podcast. She also fills in as a reporter for the NewsDesk. Moore previously worked as a production assistant for Morning Edition. During the 2020 presidential campaign, she worked for the Washington Desk as an editorial assistant, doing both research and reporting. Before coming to NPR, Moore worked at NBC News. She is a graduate of The George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and is originally and proudly from Brooklyn, N.Y.

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