Two rival septuagenarians – Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders – unknowingly combined to help create the most progressive generation in modern American history, according to a new account.
Anger over the victory of Mr Trump in 2016, and the wild, enthusiastic support for Mr Sanders, now aged 80, in both that race and the one of 2020, helped in different ways to create a generation of young people – Generation Z – that was notably more progressive than their parents.
Other key factors in creating this depth of liberal views, according to John Della Volpe, polling director at the Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics, was the Occupy Wall Street movement, the March for Our Lives anti-gun activism that followed the Parkland shooing of 2018, the environmental campaigning of Greta Thunberg and others, and the Black Lives Matter protests that swept the nation in the summer of 2020 after the murder of George Floyd.
“I would call this a tipping point,” Mr Della Volpe tells The Independent.
“We’re at a point now where we have not just one but two generations of Americans that account for 40 per cent of the electorate, that have a fundamentally different set of values and political opinions than their parents and grandparents.”
He added: “To put this into context, in 2020 Joe Biden lost the vote of almost everybody over the age of 45 in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Arizona. But he overwhelmingly won the vote of 20 and 30-year-olds. Without them, we would have a second term with Donald Trump right now, and God knows what state the country and the world would be in.”
Mr Della Volpe, author of the newly published Fight: How Gen Z Is Channeling Their Fear and Passion to Save America, has researched the thoughts and passions of some of the 70m Americans born since the mid-1990s and often referred to as Generation Z, or Zoomers.
These young people followed the group that was labelled Millennials and preceded the newest segment, Generation Alpha.
“They are the most diverse and most educated generation in history,” writes Mr Della Volpe, a former adviser to the Biden campaign.
The news will come as some comfort perhaps to Mr Biden and the Democrats, as the president struggles with an approval rating as low as 40 per cent according to a recent poll by Gallup, as he marks a year since he took office.
Alongside that, many political analysts believe the Republicans are poised to take control of the House of Representatives and possibly even the Senate in this year’s midterms.
Mr Della Volpe said his work was based on hard data, including information such as voter turn out.
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“When you look back at the last 40 years of elections – so that includes when Baby Boomers were in their 20s, Generation X and Millennials – this generation of Zoomers has broken all the turnout records,” he said.
He said in the 2018 midterm election, they doubled the turnout of every other generation when they were young.
“And in the 2020 election, they broke all records, including in 2008 when Obama was elected,” he added.
He said another way to study this group was by looking at exit polls, and comparing the share of support Democrats received, compared to Republicans.
Mr Della Volpe said it was wrong to assume younger people were always more progressive. And he said it was a fallacy that the Baby Boomer generation of the 1960s, marked by protests against the war in Vietnam and music festivals such as Woodstock, were themselves progressive.
And he said the music and art those were responding to – by groups such as the Beatles or the Rolling Stones – had been created by people who were part of the Silent Generation, or those born before 1946.
“When you look at their voting patterns, they overwhelmingly voted for Richard Nixon, and they voted for Gerald Ford – other than a Baby Boomers of colour, and they voted overwhelmingly for Ronald Reagan. Today, they continue to support Donald Trump…They have been among the most conservative generation of Americans.”
Mr Della Volpe said the five key factors he pointed to as inspiring Generation Z’s beliefs, pushed then to fight for “a more modern, more fair, more moral capitalism”.
Asked about the irony that Mr Sanders, a Vermont senator now aged 80 was a hero to so many of that generation, he said it indicated Generation Z did not care about a candidate’s age.
He said: “The combination of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, two seventy-something-year-olds, along with [Parkland activist] David Hogg, Greta Thunberg and Darnella Frazier [the teenager who recorded on her phone the murder of George Floyd] – those five or six people have really influenced the entire generation of 70 million young Americans.”