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Gen-Z voters are abandoning the two-party system for independent voting. Here's why

The 2024 United States presidential election is shaping up to be a Joe Biden vs. Donald Trump rematch and Gen-Z is not happy.

This race to the oval office is tiring for young voters at best, and at worst, it’s deeply concerning for both liberals and conservatives to imagine the amount of mental stamina, and frankly time, that each of the candidates have. However, their frustration seems to go beyond the typical groaning about being forced to choose between the “lesser of two evils.” Gen-Z, those born between 1995 and 2010, has a distaste for the entire two-party system. 

Narrow Options 

This dislike for both parties is happening because of a few reasons. The first is that the options presented to young voters by the two major parties are only getting narrower. This election cycle, the Democratic Party announced that it would not be holding any debates before the primary election, effectively muzzling any opposition to current President Joe Biden for the democratic nomination. Despite the fact there are two other Democrats – Marriane Williamson and Dean Phillips – fighting to gain traction in the race, the party is once again set on electing Biden as its candidate. 

On the Republican side of the aisle, the conversation is dominated by former President Donald Trump, despite his refusal to even conversate with his opposing candidates during the party’s debates in October and November 2023. Young republicans are also beginning to feel more alienated by the party’s lack of attempt to uplift young republican policymakers and representatives.

All in all in 2024, neither the major parties nor their leading candidates are fully engaged in the typical democratic process of an election cycle, which is deeply unappealing to Gen-Z voters.

This is all without mentioning the fact that the two-party system was already narrow enough as it was before this 2024 election cycle. The graph below, provided from Gallup, shows that Gen-Z is joining Millenials in their exhaustion of the typical two choices of party allegiance. Many of these tired young voters are straying towards the Independent Party. 

Tired of Partisan Politics

Another reason Gen-Z is distasteful of this year’s election cycle is the complete lack of bipartisan cooperation in  the House and Senate, something they have witnessed most of their lives. Dr. Dave Wells, research director of the policy think tank The Grand Canyon Institute, and a member of Gen-X himself recalls the ‘60s and ‘70s as a time in politics when the two parties weren’t quite so polarized and there wasn’t as much alienation in the government. Over the past few decades, the party dynamics have rapidly transformed, and Gen-Z has only been around long enough to witness the bitter divorce of our cooperative government. “A lot of Generation-Z [in the U.S.] haven’t seen a constructive government in their whole lifetimes,” Wells said. 

This is confirmed in the perceptions and lived experiences of emerging voters. Isabella Gomez, a Gen-Z voter from Houston, self-identifies as a liberal but says she will not register with the Democratic Party specifically. Gomez strays from the party lines because she feels they worsen  political polarization. “I think that political parties, like George Washington warned us [they would], are the driving division across the nation,” she said. “People vote for their party and their party’s representative instead of the person that they actually would agree with if not blinded by partisan politics and ignorance.” For a lot of young voters, the pressure to conform to a political party scares them off from investing at all.

Fleeing to the Independent Party

It’s clear that Gen-Z is largely steering away from the two traditional parties. The result is a sweeping rise in independent party affiliation amongst Generation-Z voters. According to polls conducted by Gallup, 52% of Gen-Z voters identify politically as independents, which is a major  leap from generations past. 

According to Wells, young voters (Gen-Z and Millennial) are more likely to lean liberal than conservative in terms of political ideology. However, this has not urged them as strongly towards the Democratic party, as in years past. Many of these liberal voters will register as independents and then vote for the candidates they align with most –  often the Democratic candidate. 

Another key factor in this trend has been the Democratic party’s avoidance of issues Gen-Z cares about the most. Gomez shared her top priorities: “Labor rights and minimum wage in certain states, the environment and external foreign affairs with nations in distress.” Gomez said she feels neither party has taken a strong enough stance on any of the issues she cares most about.

Wells agreed with Gomez that a party’s handling of foreign affairs has been an important measure of competency to young voters. “Biden’s handling of the Israel-Gaza conflict will be impactful as Democrats reach out to POC Gen-Z voters,” Wells said. Liberal youth has been calling out the Democratic Party for not calling for a ceasefire – a factor that may  drive young voters away from the Democratic Party and towards the independents. 

Changes over time

Party allegiance is shifting immensely across generational lines, and the effects of Gen-Z will only get more pronounced as time goes on. Wells predicts Gen-Z will become “much more determined” overtime and will cause “a significant change in our politics” as they become the more dominant political group.

In the next few years, if a party doesn’t exist to represent them properly, Gen-Z has proven willing to carve out a new popular party, all on their own. 

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