Gen Z and Millennial voters can move New Jersey politics in a more progressive direction

December 22, 2022 6:51 am

Polling shows Gen Z and Millennial voters will be integral to Democratic Party victories in New Jersey and nationwide. (Daniella Heminghaus for New Jersey Monitor)

I am an obsessive viewer of “Morning Joe” on MSNBC each morning. I don’t always agree with what is being said, but it is one of the best perspectives on the D.C. zeitgeist.

So on the show’s Oct. 27 episode, I was most intrigued by the interview with John Della Volpe, the director of polling at the Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics. His youth poll found among Gen Z voters ­­— those voters 25 and under — a definite trend toward Democrats and, in particular, support for progressive policies. Della Volpe predicted a “Gen Z wave” that would offset any Republican “red wave” in 2022.

On Election Day, Della Volpe proved to be the prophet of the most recent campaign. The Gen Z wave materialized, offsetting any potential red wave. The Democrats maintained control of the Senate, and the House contest was far closer than expected. Had it not been for reapportionment in New York and California that favored the Republicans, the Democrats would have retained control of the House as well.

An excellent in-depth analysis of the Gen Z wave by two University of Oregon political science professors, Alison Gash and Daniel J. Tichenor, was published in the Washington Post on December 9. The article included a composite analysis of exit polling by major media outlets and scholarly journals.

The polling composite stated that voters under 30 backed Democratic congressional candidates by almost 30 percentage points: 63% to 35%. Nearly identical margins helped Democrats become the first party in control of the White House since 1934 to retain all of its state legislative majorities in a midterm election. The wide margins that these youth voters gave to Democratic U.S. Senate candidates John Fetterman in Pennsylvania, Mark Kelly in Arizona, and Raphael Warnock in Georgia were essential to their victories

And as noted by these two Oregon professors, the progressivism of these Gen Z voters is most pronounced on the following issues: combating climate change, abortion rights, racial justice, LGBTQ rights, economic justice, gun safety, and mental health. We now know how Gen Z voters can influence candidates for federal office. The question now becomes the Gen Z impact on state elections.

We have a clear answer to this question in the work of Dan Cassino, a professor of government and politics at Fairleigh Dickinson University and director of the FDU Poll. After the midterms, Cassino surveyed voters ages 18 through 30 in New Jersey. The key findings are as follows:

  • Young people in New Jersey overwhelmingly support abortion rights, with a plurality (49%) saying that they support the right to an abortion under any circumstances.
  • Only 19% of under 30-year-olds in New Jersey say that they voted for Trump in 2020.
  • Among under-30 voters, there are more Democrats (52%) than Republicans and independents combined.
  • They are very concerned about climate change, with 46% “strongly” agreeing that it’s an existential threat.
  • Eighty-one percent say that everyone should have access to free basic health care.

There is one more aspect that indicates that young New Jerseyans are more likely to embrace the mainstream progressivism of Democratic Sens. Cory Booker and Elizabeth Warren than the democratic socialism of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: Only 32% agree that capitalism leads to fair outcomes, but they are about evenly split on the idea that “it’s immoral for any one person to have a billion dollars.”

Gen Z voters represent an asset to New Jersey Democrats in future elections for governor or Legislature. When you combine the Republican Party’s existing problems with voters of color and the burgeoning Democratic advantage with Gen Z voters, it bodes ill for the GOP’s future in New Jersey.

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Alan Steinberg
Alan Steinberg

Alan J. Steinberg served as regional administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush and as executive director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission.