This year's high-stakes presidential election has invoked the voting power of a record-breaking number of Americans across the country, handily surpassing 2016 turnout totals through early voting alone. In the weeks before Election Day, the United States saw over 100 million people cast their ballots. Younger demographics, such as Gen Z, have been characterized by many political experts as a largely "untapped" population when it comes to political participation in typical elections. However, everyone knows the election between incumbent President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden has been anything but typical — which begs the question: Exactly how many Gen Zers voted in 2020? And who for?
The 2020 election is the first to see a substantial portion of Gen Z voters, largely because they've been too young to participate in the past. In fact, the oldest members of this generation just turned 23 this year, meaning that for the majority of them, the 2020 election was their first time casting a ballot for a potential president. According to a report from Pew Research Center, the total number of Gen Zers who voted in the 2016 election amounted to just 4%. But in 2020, that number has more than doubled — a full 10% of eligible voters this year were expected to be Gen Zers. Put that in real terms, and that means a full 24 million 2020 eligible voters are expected to be between ages 18 and 23.
Early data seems to support this: Per CNN exit polls, as of 6 p.m. ET on Nov. 3, people between the ages of 18 and 29 made up 16% of voters. If current estimates of around 160 million voters overall holds true, that would mean 25.6 million voters under age 30. Analysis from the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) at Tufts University is also optimistic — early projections estimate 53% to 56% of eligible voters age 18-29 showed up to cast a ballot, compared to an estimated 45% to 48% in 2016.
Combine Gen Z with their older millennial siblings, who they more or less politically resemble, and things get even more impressive. Ahead of the election, the youngest two generations were expected to make about 37% of this year's electorate together, edging past baby boomers to make up the largest age demographic voting bloc.
As Gen Z continues to age into America's voting population, many political experts predict their generally progressive views on LGBTQ+ issues, reproductive rights, immigration reform, and more will serve to bolster the Democratic party. In 2020, at least, early numbers appear to show that holds true — according to CIRCLE, voters age 18-29 showed up for Joe Biden by a margin of nearly two to one.
Hannah Bristol, the young American engagement director for the Joe Biden campaign, emphasizes the importance of reaching out to these future first-time voters for the campaign. "We’ve been working to meet young Americans where they are," Bristol tells Elite Daily. She says that though final counts weren't in, early voting numbers showed high youth turnout. "They are playing an important role in this election," she notes. The Biden campaign launched several youth engagement efforts throughout the 2020 election, including League 46 and Students For Biden.
Even those too young to vote have found ways to get involved. "Many of those who are not yet able to vote have been very engaged with the campaign through friend-to-friend outreach to those who can vote, which is important because we know people are most effective messengers to their own communities," Bristol says. "We hope to see them continue to engage in the democratic process as they become eligible to vote."
As the final results in several key battleground states such as Georgia, Nevada, and Pennsylvania are still being hashed out across the country, many Americans are anxiously awaiting the final call on the race. Whether or not Gen Z will be a defining demographic for the 2020 election is still unclear — but within the next decade, it's almost certain.