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The Vote: Convincing Young Voters to Show Up

In past presidential elections, young voter turnout has been shockingly low. According to data from the Pew Research Center, Gen Z and Millennial voters had the lowest turnout of any age group in the 2016 election. 

But politically active Gen Z-ers are determined to change that this year and are taking to social media to do so. They believe that they can convince their generation to vote by utilizing popular platforms such as Instagram and TikTok, and have taken matters into their own hands. 

Amanda Powers is a senior at Harvard University and co-chair of the Harvard Votes Challenge. The HVC is a nonpartisan effort to increase civic engagement across campus. It employs its Instagram account to reach its audience by posting informational graphics about how to cast your ballot, upcoming voter registration deadlines and student stories about why voting is important. HVC team members also utilize Instagram direct messages to talk directly to their peers, Powers explained. 

Gen Z voter participation is crucial in this election because although Gen Z is the largest voting bloc, politicians do not always prioritize what matters to us because historically, older voters show up at higher rates,” Powers explained. “That is why we do this work: to convince young people that our votes matter and to provide resources and break down barriers in the voting process.”

Another student at Harvard, Anna Wolf, has founded the polling company Poll Well. After seeing the inaccuracies of polling data in the 2016 and 2018 elections, Wolf was inspired to deliver “accurate free election information to the American public.”

Poll Well utilizes advertisement platforms on social media networks to encourage people to participate in its randomly sampled, self-reported surveys. The surveys range from a short answer text box to a few multiple-choice questions, Wolf explained. She believes that exposure to politics on social media, such as Poll Well’s advertisements and Instagram programming, has led many Gen Z-ers to become politically active.

“Online, it has been impossible for Gen Z voters to ignore the upcoming election. Young people are exposed to posts about the election through their followers, regardless of their own political engagement. This heightened political exposure has immense power to increase young voter turnout and sway the election in unprecedented ways.”

Olivia Williams, an environmental science major at Brown University, makes use of her personal Instagram account to “put forth a particular rhetoric” around the social issues she cares about, specifically climate change. 

“It is critical that folks in my generation vote in this upcoming election... it is immensely important to show up to the polls and exercise our fundamental right in this Democracy to work towards justice for the planet.”

Like Williams, University of Michigan student Matt Howard uses his Twitter and Instagram account to encourage his friends to vote. He explains that he has friends on both sides of the political spectrum, so he tries to educate them through his social media even if his posts have biases towards his own political stance. 

Victoria Hammet is a senior psychology major at the University of Southern California. Earlier this year, she posted a funny video on her TikTok account unrelated to politics that garnered hundreds of thousands of likes. As she gained followers from that viral video, she continued to post content of the same humorous substance. 

But after the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, she began to post political TikToks on her account to bring awareness to police brutality. Since then, her platform has accumulated over 365,000 followers and 19.5 million total likes.

“As 2020 unfolded, it didn't feel right to continue making story times and make-up videos. From that moment on, I wanted to only use my platform to discuss important issues,” Hammett explained. 

Hammett posts a variety of TikToks on her account, such as recaps of breaking news about President Trump or Vice President Biden and fact checks on other users’ videos. Her sarcastic humor and unique ability to explain complex issues in a simplified manner have helped her following grow at a rapid rate. She had 363,000 followers yesterday afternoon; today it’s up to 365,600. 

“Young adults, myself included, spend a ridiculous amount of time on social media. With fewer and fewer young people voting each year, it's incredibly important for every person with a social media platform to use it to educate their followers about politics and current events,” Hammett said. 

It seems like the social media route is working. According to a Harvard study, 63 percent of voters between the ages of 18 and 29 said they would “definitely be voting” in November, compared to 47 percent in 2016. Hammett believes this is due to the abundance of political content catered to Generation Z voters on social platforms. 

“This year, we've seen record-breaking amounts of young people registering to vote, and I think that can be largely attributed to the way so many people have started using social media to express their political beliefs,” she explained. 

As November 3 approaches, Hammett, Williams, Wolf and Powers are confident that their generation will show up to the polls and change the narrative about young voters. But whatever the outcome, they all can look back at their efforts to encourage their peers to vote and be proud that they are on the right side of history.  


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