ERIE, PA — Max Bloomtine has a positive view of the nation’s growing diversity, believes the American dream is attainable (but doesn’t believe he’s entitled to it) and is more into the “we” instead of the “me.”
He is politically independent but leans conservative, attends church on a regular basis, and views his parents — not sports figures or celebrities — as role models.
Right now, though, two things weigh heavily on his mind: where to attend college next year (It’s either going to be the University of Pittsburgh or Rochester) and working on a summer job.
“I am a good entrepreneur when it comes to online gaming design,” he said.
Say hello to Generation Z, the most recent to come of age. It is the youth of America, with its oldest members in their early 20s.
Sometimes referred to as the iGeneration, as they literally grew up with technology and social media in their hands, they are poised to dramatically change the cultural, economic and political landscape for some time to come.
Born between 1996 and 2010, they are very similar to their Gen X parents, that small, pragmatic generation that fell between the larger baby boomer and millennial generations.
“Gen Z actually like and trust their parents, who have been transparent with them, much more than any generation before,” said Jeff Brauer, a political-science professor at Keystone College in suburban Scranton, Pa., who has produced one of the first comprehensive studies on the next generation.
Analyzing research from Wright State University in Ohio on 1,200 Generation Z students at 15 colleges and universities across the country, Brauer also used exit polling from CNN and census data to draw his conclusions.
‘Gen Z actually like and trust their parents, who have been transparent with them, much more than any generation before.’
“They are not as impressed with fame — celebrities, athletes, politicians — as are their predecessors, since fame in their lifetime has become rather easy to obtain with social media and reality TV,” Brauer added.
Generation Z is diverse. They are only 55 percent white and will be the last majority-white generation in America. And they have the most positive outlook towards the nation’s growing diversity than any previous generation.
Generation Z is a product of 9/11, global terrorism, school shootings, perpetual wars, the Great Recession, high unemployment and constant budget cuts. Because of all that, they are cautious, even fearful, of an uncertain world and economy. Security and safety are very important to them, as they have grown up in such an unstable society.
They are distrustful of “big” employers because they’ve seen good people, who did all the right things, get laid off from longstanding jobs and careers. They are cautious with finances, always looking for the best deals and the best value.
“When I shop, which I do almost exclusively online, I compare everything until I get the best quality for the least cost,” said Bloomtine.
Generation Z is also more religious than preceding generations — attending organized weekly church services at about twice the rate of millennials, Generation Xers and baby boomers.
They are interested in issues that involve themselves but that also impact the broader community — education, employment, security and the environment all concern them.
“Politically, Generation Z is liberal-moderate with social issues, like support for marriage equality and civil rights, and moderate-conservative with fiscal and security issues,” said Brauer.
“While many are not connected to the two major parties and lean independent, Gen Z’s inclinations generally fit moderate Republicans.”
The Republican Party, if it plays its cards right, could make lasting inroads with this generation, even at an early age — something the GOP has struggled with for decades.
Had he been able to vote last November, Bloomtine definitely would have picked Donald Trump for president.
“I was not old enough to vote for him, but I was very engaged and informed all throughout the election,” Bloomtine said. “I liked most his independence from the political parties and his willingness to challenge them when he felt they were not serving the American people.”
If Trump runs in four years would Bloomtine vote for him? “As long as he continues to be himself, absolutely.”
Last year was the first presidential election in which Generation Z voted, according to Brauer, “yet, there was virtually no attention paid to this demographic.”
In fact, in almost every case, its members were simply lumped in with their significantly different counterparts, the millennials, in the 18-to-29 age group.
“This was disingenuous and unfortunate and didn’t give the true picture of the election,” said Brauer. “Looking at the data, there was virtually no attempt to separate these two very different generations of voters.”
Brauer explains that, from 2012 to 2016, Democratic candidates lost 5 percent of the youth vote nationally (down from 60 percent to 55 percent). In Florida, Democrats’ margin of victory among the young dropped 16 percentage points. In both Ohio and Pennsylvania, the drop was 19 points. In Wisconsin, 20 points.
“It is unlikely that such significant drops were simply due to the more-liberal millennial generation changing their minds from one election to the next,” said Brauer.
“It is much more likely the precipitous drops were due to the more conservative Generation Z being able, for the first time, to express their political inclinations, especially in the economically hard-hit swing states.”
Therefore, Generation Z possibly had a major, yet completely overlooked, impact in this historic election. “Generation Z voters were likely attracted to Trump because of his strong stances on national security and economic recovery — the main concerns of that generation,” said Brauer.
“This generation is different, and they are about to have a profound impact on commerce, politics and trends,” Brauer concludes. “If politicians and business leaders aren’t paying attention yet, they better, because they are about to change the world.”