Political influencers: Gen Z shows its power and ups the stakes online

The midterms not only saw the election of the first Generation Z member of Congress, it also showed the power of the Gen Z voting bloc, with the youth vote credited in part for Democrats’ surprising success in key races across the country. 

Ava McDonald, the founder of Zfluence, which connects brands to Gen Z influencers, said Sen.-elect John Fetterman’s (D-Pa.) campaign showed the value of engaging younger voters on social media

“I think it’s important for politicians to meet Gen Z where they are,” said McDonald, who is also a Georgetown University student. “We are not picking up physical newspapers, we are not consuming information the same way that generations in the past have.” 

As Fetterman recovered from a stroke earlier this year, his campaign stayed in the news with a savvy and often irreverent digital media strategy that kept Republican candidate Mehmet Oz on the defensive. 

Maxwell Frost also made history last week, winning election in Florida’s 10th Congressional District and becoming the first Gen Z member in Congress.

McDonald was speaking at The Hil’s event “Gen Z: Writing Their Own Rules” on Thursday for a discussion about the generation, roughly defined as those born between 1997 and 2012, which is seen as an emerging force in everything from politics to activism and the economy. 

And the political world is taking note. The political ad tracking firm AdImpact estimated that $1.4 billion was spent on digital advertisements in the 2022 midterms, making up 13 percent of the overall political spending for the cycle. 

White House Director of Digital Strategy Rob Flaherty said it was vital to make sure more diverse and younger communities feel represented in the digital content being distributed. 

“The reality is, in an environment where content is so personalized, you need to have content creators who are diverse to be able to produce content that feels resonant with people,” Flaherty said. 

“You cannot function as a person producing content, as a team producing content, if the audiences you need to talk to do not feel reflected in the stuff you are producing.” 

Flaherty said it is a priority of the Biden administration to create a digital team that has a diversity of both lived and professional experiences. 

If the power of Gen Z voters was in doubt before the midterms, a clear message was sent last week, according to exit polls and panelists at Thursday’s event, which was sponsored by the Walton Family Foundation.  

The 2022 midterms saw voters from 18-29 turn out in the second highest rate in three decades, accounting for 27 percent of votes cast, according to research from the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University. 

In the closing panel, four Gen Z activists representing various advocacy organizations talked about the central importance of climate change to young voters of all political stripes. 

Lauren Maunus, the advocacy director of the Sunrise Movement said her group — and her generation — rejects the notion that climate change is inevitable, and is intent on changing the status quo. 

“I think we understand, as a generation, that we’re facing the consequences of decades of an economic system that has given the privilege and safety to a small number of people at the expense of a lot of other people,” Maunus said. 

Karly Matthews, communications director of the American Conservative Coalition, said climate concerns were shared across the political spectrum. 

The Hill’s Cheyanne Daniels asked Reed Howard, the director of communications for the Millennial Action Project, why young people are increasingly involved in politics.

“Young people are seeing that there are a ton of problems and instead of running away from them, they have to run towards them,” Reed said. “They are committed to doing what needs to be done and solving the issues that are impacting their local communities.” 

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