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Gen Edge: The Next Generation of Voters

Do you suffer from election fatigue? For well over a year, we have been exposed to one of the most contentious and publicized primary elections in US history. From Donald Trump to Hilary Clinton, it’s hard to go online, turn on the TV, or read a headline that isn’t somehow connected to the 2016 election and the wide array of candidates on their journey to get their party’s nomination. And now that each party has its presidential candidate in place, election coverage is only going to increase tenfold until November. Buckle up.

Or, perhaps you suffer from Millennial fatigue? For years now, much of the generational conversation has been about Millennials. Millennials in the workplace. Millennials in the marketplace. With their unique motivations and socially conscious attitudes, many companies, marketers, and, yes, politicians have been trying hard to speak to this generation’s unique traits and values.

Today, however, there is a shift happening, both in election talk and in generational discussions happening across the country—Generation Edge! Gen Edge, sometimes referred to as Gen Z, is the generation that follows Millennials. Born after 1996, the oldest members of this cohort are now 20 years old and will be the first in this generation to vote in a presidential election. Candidates would be wise to pay attention to them.

Gen Edge: Constantly Connected Digital Natives
More than a quarter of the population belongs to Gen Edge, and they are distinctive from Millennials (born between 1980 and 1995) in a multitude of ways. Tragic events like 9/11 and Columbine happened way before their time. Nokia phones, iPods, and MySpace were all used by older siblings or their parents. Floppy disks? Forget it. This generation has been able to swipe and click before they could do long division. Gen Edge is the first generation born into a globally-connected world—a bottomless source of information. Consider this, Millennials use an average of three screens per day. Gen Edge uses five: a smartphone, TV, laptop, desktop, and iPad. As the first generation in history to always be connected, it is a safe bet that they will continue to use digital technology and social media to connect with and follow the candidates on their hopeful road to the White House. But will Republicans or Democrats be speaking their language? If they want the Gen Edge vote in November, they should be.

The Struggles of Reaching the Young Voter
As a Gen Xer, I can’t remember a time when politicians have not struggled to capture the vote of young people. In fact, getting young people to vote AT ALL has historically been a struggle. From Rock the Vote to Vote or Die, different movements and campaigns have been created over the years to show young people that their vote can (and does) make a difference. The main problem: younger voters seldom feel politicians speak to their unique interests or needs. I mean, how excited is a 22 year old going to get about a politician that’s 40 years their senior and addressing issues like Medicare?

A shift happened in the 1990’s when we saw a young Bill Clinton appearing on MTV, taking questions directly from young people and addressing their concerns head-on. By 2008, young voters turned out in record numbers and helped Barack Obama win the presidential election. Millennials worked hard to make their voices heard, and it showed. But how can candidates keep this momentum going with Gen Edge in 2016?

Whether it’s Hillary or The Donald, if candidates want the Gen Edge vote, they’ll need to address the interests of this generation in a transparent and upfront manner. Below are three major concerns currently top of mind for Gen Edge.

 College

A whopping 67% of Gen Edgers say that being able to afford college is a top concern and more than half believe the government needs to do more to help them pay for a post-secondary education. With more jobs requiring at least some higher education and the cost of college skyrocketing, many Gen Edgers worry they will be saddled with debt for years after graduation, much like the Millennials before them.

The Economy

College aside, Gen Edgers saw firsthand the effects of the Great Recession. They saw parents and siblings lose their jobs; foreclosure signs in many neighborhoods across the country were the norm. As a result, this is a generation of realists. Raised by transparent and straightforward Gen X parents, that’s exactly what they look for in politicians. They don’t want to be told “everything is going to be alright.” Rather, they want to be told how it’s going to get fixed. Gen Edgers are looking for transparency when it comes to their candidate of choice in 2016. But it will take more than promises; they want a plan. With access to information and their ability to fact check like no other generation before them, they are not likely to be taken in by sound bites and quick-fix solutions.

Social Issues

Gen Edge is the most diverse, multicultural generation in US history, and they will be the last with a Caucasian majority, according to the United States 2010 Census. This generation is growing up in a new world—during the election of our first black president, the legalization of same-sex marriage, and ever-increasing diversity in schools across the country. For many of this cohort, it’s not about tolerance, it’s about acceptance. Diversity is the norm, not the exception. This is a generation that will most likely gravitate towards candidates that take definitive action toward inclusion and speak to their culture’s unique needs.

Bottom line: despite their youth, this digitally-savvy, socially-conscious generation doesn’t expect success to be handed to them. They know they’ll have to work for it. What they do expect is a president who will take strides to help create a future that will help them thrive. After all, with the right leadership, this can-do generation might be the ones to save the world.