Following the 2022 midterm elections, Gen Z were largely credited by Democratic politicians and pundits for stopping the red wave. “Young voters cancel out every single vote of those over 65. Under 30 and under 40 were the only age group to go to the Democrats and they went overwhelmingly to the Democrats,” said the student chair of the Harvard Public Opinion Project, Alan Zhang, in an interview with ABC News. “Without the youth vote, there was no firewall that stopped the red wave from taking over.” According to data from the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University, about 27 percent of voters who cast a ballot during the 2022 midterm elections were under 30, making it the second-highest youth voter turnout in about 30 years.
But younger voters didn’t do it alone. Although findings from the Pew Research Center show that millennial voters highly favored Democrats, Generation X voters—those born 1965 to 1980—also tilt towards the Democratic Party, with 48 percent identifying as or leaning Democratic, while only 43 percent favored the Republican Party. Justin Meszler, the mobilization director for Voters of Tomorrow, a youth-led organization that aims to promote pro-democracy efforts among young people through social media and digitally organized events, said he often works with older volunteers—sometimes over 90 years old. “We are not the first ones to be engaging with these issues,” said Meszler, a first-year student at Brown University. “Our strategy and our work is not isolated from the work that has come before us. it is informed by the work and the expertise of our older volunteers, advisors and allies.”
Without the intergenerational coalition that they have built at Voters of Tomorrow, Meszler said they would not have been able to make millions of calls and texts following the Georgia runoff election. “Our phone banks, text banks are run by Gen Z, by 18-year-olds like myself, but we welcome all support,” he said. “We’re thankful for the passionate expertise that we’ve seen from our older volunteers and allies, because we are all fighting for the same future and for the same values.” In order to harness the power across generations, Meszler said, his organization focuses on utilizing the shared values between older and younger voters. In addition to supporting Gen-Z, these more experienced voters also continue to stay politically active, inspired by their own experiences as young adults.
As a young woman, Sherry Sybesma, who turns 77 this year, supported legalizing abortion. When the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, she was ready to fight to defend the reproductive rights she had helped win in her youth. According to Sybesma, people in her generation are as committed as they were 50 years ago. Carol Tekavec, 70, agrees. She took to the streets to join demonstrations in her small town in Colorado. “I had my little sign that said ‘Pro-Choice’ and I told those young girls, ‘I’m so proud of you for coming out here.’” These different generations will have to work side by side for progress to be made, said Sybesma. “We’ve got to come together on what we agree on or we won’t be successful.”
“We’re living in the most age-diverse time in human history,” said Eunice Lin Nichols, the co-CEO of CoGenerate, which strives to create a multigenerational network on the grounds that no generation could solve their problems alone. “We have five generations in the workplace, living together, playing together, in school, worshiping together in all kinds of places. And yet, when you look at the places we live, work, play, worship and learn, the structures are deeply age-segregated.” According to Nichols, not many people are able to envision intergenerational unity as a norm because society often pushes age segregation. “We’ve spent a lot of time and money proactively separating ages for the sake of efficiency. Young people are in school, middle aged people are at work, older people have been pushed towards retirement communities,” she said.
Filmmaker Sky Bergman, a CoGenerate Innovation Fellow and a professor at Cal Poly State University, San Luis Obispo, has been attempting to bridge the intergenerational divide even before she got involved with CoGenerate. While shooting her film Forever Voters, she got the chance to witness meaningful organizing between older voters from the League of Women Voters and high school students. “I think seeing the joy that these students had, it was remarkable…. and then listening to the issues that they really wanted to vote on,” she said. “I thought, this is something really important, that we bring generations together for this civic engagement because voters, if they start young, they will become lifetime voters.”
Bergman said different generations of voters have a lot to lose if they don’t prioritize working across age groups. Paths for intergenerational contact are often unavailable for people, according to Nichols. In response, CoGenerate has created initiatives to help promote these connections, such as providing grants to organizations creating or expanding “programs that unite older and younger to serve together.” “There is wisdom and knowledge that comes with older people who’ve had more life experience. Younger people bring fresh ideas,” Bergman said. “And so I think when you bring those two groups together, the fresh ideas and the lived experiences, I think it’s amazing what can happen and what we can learn from each other.”
Sybesma said the key to stronger partnership between intergenerational voters is the willingness to compromise and listen. Different generations are prone to judging one another, she said, based on negative stereotypes. Nichols emphasized the importance of seeing people’s humanity and authenticity instead of their differences. Meszler said that his team puts more focus on the shared values, which bridges these fundamental differences rather than creating further division.
As Michelle Perrine, a volunteer with Vote Save America, explained, many older activists see their younger selves in Gen-Z. “We’ve been through this already. I can remember having debates in high school about Roe,” said Perrine. “I almost feel like I just want to reach out to them and just say, ‘Look, it’s going to be okay. We’re going to help you. And we’re going to help you make a stand. We can still win this fight.’”