Oakland, CA — While Election Day is well over a year away, the 2020 presidential race has already begun. And it seems to be growing more crowded by the minute: 15 hopefuls have already announced their candidacies in the past month, from high-profile senators like Cory Booker and Kamala Harris, to Marianne Williamson, Oprah’s “spiritual guru.”
Despite politicians’ attempts to appeal to every last voter, there’s one demographic that is often neglected: young voters. In 2020, that blind spot could be costly. Young voter turnout skyrocketed in the 2018 midterms, with a 188 percent increase from the 2014 midterms.
So, who does Gen Z — the people born from 1997 on — want to lead them into the future? Here’s what five young people from the Bay Area, ages 15 to 17, had to say.
1) They Want a President Who Works for the People
In general, these young people want to know that their politicians care about their constituents’ well-being and can relate to everyday citizens. This can often mean connecting to people outside their own racial and socioeconomic circles.
Hannah Cornejo, a 16-year-old from Berkeley, California, says she wants a candidate who exhibits “compassion” and can focus on issues that are “important for everyday people.” Benicia resident Chris Weldon, 17, agrees. He wants someone who is “kind, respectful, willing to listen to others, has a big heart and takes in all the facts.”
2) They Value Human Rights and Want the Same from Their Leaders
Young voters tend to be more diverse than older generations, according to the Pew Research Center. Almost half of Gen Z is composed of racial or ethnic minorities. They want politicians to represent them, not just respect them.
Aaron Jackson, 17, from Oakland, California, remembers how excited he felt to see his identity reflected in Barack Obama. He hopes to see another black candidate win.
3) Immigration is a Major Priority
Immigration and border control have been touchy subjects for years. After so many alienating debates, young voters want tangible change. For the teens we interviewed, this doesn’t mean a wall.
Oakland resident Victoria Bella, 15, criticized the current president’s rhetoric, which condemns many undocumented immigrants as criminals, when they statistically commit crimes at a lower rate than native-born citizens. “We shouldn’t be deporting people who have family in America,” Bella said. She wants elected officials to have compassion for immigrants. “People come to America to have a better life,” Bella said.
4) They Don't Want Divisive Politics
“Things I don’t want in a presidential candidate?” Weldon asked. “Scandals, lies, ... illegal contributions.”
After years of polarizing politics, young voters are tired of political division. One thing they noted was negativity: instead of tearing down others because of differing opinions, young people want a president with a positive platform who can bring us together.
Bella is looking for a candidate “who isn’t trying to divide us, but really trying to make America better as a community.”
5) Identity Politics Don't Matter as Much as You Think
While many young people would prefer to see more women and people of color in office, most are more focused on a particular candidate’s commitment to equality.
At the end of the day, these young voters say they care more about policies than identity politics. “I don’t think it really matters, as long as they actually show that they’re passionate about helping all people,” De La Torre said.
6) They Want a Change from 2016
While they may be young, Gen Z voters still remember the polarizing presidential race of 2016. Many remember a slew of sensationalized debates, Twitter feuds and scandals. In 2020, they want to focus on the policies, not personal attacks.
“I hope that [both political parties] take a deeper look this time and endorse the right candidate,” Weldon said. “A better candidate.”
“I don’t want it to be focused around who can be the most sensational and who can make [a] media circus, instead of focusing on the issues and what’s really important,” Cornejo said. “And I don’t want Russia to hack it.”