Generation Z engagement in politics: Preferences and perspectives
Scholars and academics have explored the unique characteristics,
values, and perspectives associated with different generational cohorts for
thousands of years. By doing so, they have deepened our understanding of how
generational differences can shape society and influence its trajectory over
delving into the differences between age brackets, it is essential to define
the word “generation”. In essence, a generation refers to a group of
individuals who were born around the same time and grew up in similar
surroundings. These individuals within the same birth cohort tend to display
similar traits, values, and preferences throughout their lifetime.
The study of differences between and among generations has been
known since the times of ancient Greek philosophers such as Plato. In
the 19th century, Giuseppe Ferrari, who wrote Teoria dei Periodi Politici,
observed that every 30 years a new set of leaders take over the
government, bringing new ideas and perspectives that differ from their
of the causes of sociological change is human biology. Just as the cells in our
bodies constantly change over time, so too do a society’s norms and ideologies. The
19th-century French philosopher August Comte observed that the
evolution of society is driven by the process of generational turnover. Each
successive generation introduces new ideas, practices, and values and thus play
a vital role in shaping the culture.
In the 20th century, prominent Hungarian intellectual Karl
Mannheim advanced the theory that each generation learns from the traditions
and norms of the society and ancestors that preceded them. In a series of
essays, Mannheim observed that as new generations mature and become more involved
in society, they begin to develop unique perspectives, ideas, values, and
behaviors, which they carry with them through their lifetime. As
older generations die off, these new ideas and practices shape a new society. More
recently, American political scientist Ronald Inglehart’s work in the 1970s
provided an example of how generational differences manifest in society.
Inglehart found that in contrast to the pre-World War II generation in Western
Europe, who placed great importance on security and political order, the post-war
generation tended to prioritize self-expression and freedom. This shift in
attitude was eventually reflected in broader societal changes that liberalized
Today, one in five Americans belong to the cohort known as Generation
Z, Gen Z, Zoomers, iGeneration, centennials, post-millennials, or Homelanders.
This demographic, the largest in the world today, usually describes anyone
born between 1997 and 2012, although precise birth year is not as important as
other socio-economic factors in defining the group. Gen Z are characterized as
being digitally savvy, racially diverse, and socially aware. According to the
global web index, Gen Z spends more time on social media than “millennials” – those
born from the early 1980s to the late 1990s. Furthermore, Gen Z is
particularly drawn to visual content over written content as social media
encourages them to share their perspectives, and pictures and video translate
better to a wider audience. As more Gen Zers come of voting age, they will have
more electoral influence, and they will most likely
use the digital space to communicate their opinions on politics, including foreign
policy. This article seeks to understand the perspective of Gen Z regarding
foreign policy, and specifically their attitudes toward global issues.
The digital dilemma: The effects of
tech on Gen Z
Gen Z has witnessed the emergence of
tremendous technological change, which has impacted society. The emergence of
social media platforms such as Facebook and Friendster in the early 2000s
represented the beginning of an important shift in society. They have helped
individuals connect regardless of their religion and cultural or geographical
location, and allowed members of Gen Z to share their thoughts and ideas with a global
audience. There remains, however, a lack of
debate about the benefits and drawbacks of social media on a societal scale.
people to communicate more quickly in case of accidents or disaster, and can be
utilized to raise awareness of social issues. In Abu Dhabi, for example, the
police department uses Instagram to promote safe driving practices. Yet, technology also has a dark side. Powerful people such as businessmen
and politicians can use social media to shape public opinion, and recently concerns
have been raised about the negative impact of social media on individuals. The addictive nature of digital media has
led to an increase in inactivity, which brings with it a variety of health
concerns such as obesity. The bombardment of imagery on minds that are not yet fully developed has
also led to psychological issues such as anxiety and depression.
Global politics and the ‘solidarity generation’
Those born between 1997 and 2012 have witnessed a number of global events
such as the emergence of the blockchain market and the rise of Artificial
Intelligence. The reaction to the global Covid-19 pandemic severely impacted
the global economy, which had a direct impact on Gen Z. Many experienced
lay-offs, wage cuts, and other socio-economic challenges. As a result of their
experiences, members of Gen Z are likely to bring a new perspective to the role
of government in addressing both domestic and global issues. Social justice and
climate change are expected to be particular focuses of Gen Z, who have been characterized
as a “solidarity generation” because of their inclination to join with
like-minded people who share their values and ideals. A 2017 global study of 20
nations and a 2021 study that surveyed 45 countries showed that climate change was
the most significant issue of concern among the younger generation.
One of the possible reasons for Gen Z’s focus on climate change and
human rights rather than the global power competition, is that the United
States has reigned as the dominant global player, with only China recently
posing any kind of threat to their hegemony. Almost half of Gen Z prioritize
climate change as a major threat compared to only 12% who believe countering
China is a major concern. A significant proportion
of this cohort expressed a preference for a cooperative approach to China
rather than embracing a new Cold War paradigm. Moreover, seven in 10 Zoomers
believe that the U.S.’s military engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan were
ill-advised and have had negative repercussions, as have the country’s policies
regarding the Syrian civil war and Iran. The prevailing sentiment among Gen Z,
who are characterized by extensive global connectivity, demonstrates a
propensity for embracing collaborative foreign policies instead of aligning
themselves with specific major political actors.
Some policy makers might stereotype Gen Z as being distracted by the
digital world and therefore less concerned about national security issues;
however, this cohort exhibits a level of voting engagement approximately 20%
higher than that shown by the previous generation, according to the Census
Bureau. The Brookings Institution,
a liberal American think tank, reached a similar conclusion about Gen Z’s level
of political engagement after one of their seminars featuring expert policy
makers discovered that 50% of the cohort they surveyed believed an increase in
the national debt over the next three years could be a major problem in the future.
In the United Kingdom, some of Gen Z’s formative years were spent
during the Labour Party’s 13-year reign, from Tony Blair’s landslide victory in
Gordon Brown’s historic 91-seat loss that
led to his resignation in 2010. It
can be argued that these political events have influenced this cohort’s
political views and that – especially in the aftermath of Brexit – many have a tendency
to align themselves more closely with the Labor Party. They believe that social
welfare should be prioritized, and that the government’s role is to redistribute
wealth, even if that means an increase in taxes.
In the Middle East, the so-called “Arab Spring” in 2011 had a profound
impact on the political outlook of Gen Z. After a Tunisian fruit vendor set
himself on fire in protest of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s policies,
widespread protests erupted that forced Ben Ali to resign on January 14, 2011.
Eleven years later, a survey found that individuals from the Zoomer cohort, who
matured in the aftermath of the turmoil, tend to perceive the era of Ben Ali as
being relatively tranquil and prosperous. Conversely, the millennial
generation, who were old enough to actually participate in the revolution,
tends to believe the opposite.
Given their large
demographic representation, Gen Z is poised to play a pivotal role in shaping
the future of government and individual rights. Many of these individuals have
not yet fully matured in the realms of politics and foreign affairs, making it
premature to pass definitive judgments on their beliefs and actions, but a few
trends are already beginning to emerge.
interests of each cohort within this generation are influenced by their
specific domestic needs. However, Gen Z tends to be driven by shared global
values and thus issues such as climate change remain high on their agenda. The
experiences of Gen Z, particularly their encounters with the Covid-19 pandemic and the challenges of low employment, have exerted a profound
impact on their perspectives. Consequently, it is highly likely that they will
want to focus on strengthening social affairs.
 Lauren M.
Troksa, “The Study of Generations: A Timeless Notion within a Contemporary
Context,” University of Colorado Boulder, Undergraduate Honors Thesis, 2016, http://bitly.ws/J2Iz.
 Giuseppe Ferrari,
Teoria dei Periodi Politici (Milan: Hoepli, 1874), http://bitly.ws/Ku6L; Michael X. Delli Carpini, “Age and History:
Generations and Sociopolitical Change,” in Political Learning in Adulthood:
A Sourcebook of Theory and Research, ed. Roberta S. Sigel (Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 1989): pp. 11-55, http://bitly.ws/J2Pn.
 National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and
and Use of Generational Theories,” in Are Generational Categories Meaningful
Distinctions for Workforce Management? (Washington, D.C.: The National
Academies Press, 2020), https://doi.org/10.17226/25796.
 Dipayan Ghosh, “Are We Entering a New Era of Social Media Regulation?” Harvard Business
Review, January 14, 2021, http://bitly.ws/JrIB.
 Manu Sharma, Deepak Kaushal, and
Sudhanshu Joshi, “Adverse Effect of Social Media on Generation Z User’s
Behavior: Government Information Support as a Moderating Variable,” Journal
of Retailing and Consumer Services 72 (2023), https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jretconser.2023.103256.
Javier Sajuria, “Generation Z and Political Participation: A Comparative
Analysis with Previous Generations," Politics
and Governance 7, no. 4 (2019): pp. 192-201.
 Gordon Gray, “The Politically Active Generations: Millennials, Gen Z
Care About the Debt — and More,” American
February 7, 2020, http://bitly.ws/JrEG.
Labor Party won the 1997 general election by the largest majority of seats
since 1945. See UK Parliament, “General Election Results, May 1, 1997,” http://bitly.ws/CTtu.
2010, the Labor Party leader Gordon Brown stepped down, which paved the way for
the Conservatives to return to power. See Robert Booth, “Gordon Brown Resigns,”
The Guardian, May 11, 2010, http://bitly.ws/CTvC.