Empowering Gen Z in Politics

Julia Leigh
3 min readFeb 6, 2024
Photo by Dan Dennis on Unsplash

In 2023, the U.S. swore in its first Gen Z Congressman: 25-year-old Maxwell Frost of Florida’s 10th congressional district. Frost was an outlier by several decades among his new congressional peers — the House’s average age sits at about 57.9 — but his election signaled hope for the young people of this country who feel underrepresented by their much older governmental bodies.

As Gen Zers enter adulthood and the public sphere, the question of their political participation is a hot topic. Even though recent elections have brought more young people out to vote, their national turnout has not broken 30%. Meanwhile, older age groups consistently pull over half of their members to the polls.

The future is our youth’s inheritance, and 55% of them are concerned with the direction our democracy is moving in. It’s easy to feel hopeless against what seems like a complicated, impenetrable political machine. Allegations of apathy and disillusionment have cast young people as avoidant, uninterested, or ignorant in the realm of political knowledge. However, studies show that the lack of civic engagement among young people isn’t due to a lack of caring — rather, uncertainty plays a key role in keeping young adults away from and out of politics.

But as Congressman Frost shows us, young people can and should enter the political realm, not just as observers, but as actors.

Photo by Colin Lloyd on Unsplash

It may seem surprising that the generation that grew up with supercomputers in their pockets still experiences so much uncertainty around political information. But with greater choice comes greater risk. The multitude of options offering political commentary — from social media networks to late-night comedy programs — have created a treacherous political information landscape. Information overload looms as a constant threat and one has to be careful where they place their trust to navigate the minefield of misinformation. Good critical information and digital literacy skills are important tools in our arsenal to successfully and sustainably navigate this media-rich political terrain.

“We have found a strong relationship between young voters’ perceptions of confidence in their political knowledge and the likelihood they will exercise their right to vote.” — Kaid, McKinney, & Tedesco (2007)

Political efficacy is used by scholars to describe how an individual views the effectiveness of their political action and contains an external and internal element. External efficacy deals with a person’s confidence in the government’s ability and/or willingness to respond to citizen demands. Internal efficacy, however, concerns a voter’s view of their qualification to cast an informed vote.

While young people do tend to be more disillusioned with the political system, their lack of self-confidence may be a more critical component of their political disengagement. “We have found a strong relationship between young voters’ perceptions of confidence in their political knowledge and the likelihood they will exercise their right to vote,” wrote Kaid, McKinney, and Tedesco in their 2007 study of the relationship between political efficacy and voting behavior among younger vs. older citizens.

Traditionally, young people have had little agency in their civic instruction. But when we shift the pedagogical paradigm to center learners as active participants in their civic education, we can create confident students who feel qualified to have and use their political voice. Empowering young people in their sense of political efficacy can better prepare them to critically interact with the many sources of information crowding their news feeds, enabling them to feel more confident in their understanding of the political climate and thus more qualified to participate in the democratic process.