Gen Z Is About To Go To The Polls, Many For The First Time. Here's What They Care About.

“I am voting because I don’t think the current elected officials represent the full population of the United States.”

There are a lot of eyes on how Gen Z feels about the future — the youngest voters about to go to the polls now belong to that generation, and any decisions made in this election will profoundly shape their opportunities.

While the majority of Gen Z is still too young to vote, their generation looks very different from the baby boomers who are still holding power in the government — they are much more diverse and hold more progressive values than previous generations. As digital natives who were raised after 9/11, they have been a driving force in movements on topics from climate change to racial justice, and their political clout will obviously continue to grow as they come of age.

Photographer Anna Betts would be a first-time voter herself — originally from the UK, Betts now lives in Brooklyn and documented her Gen Z peers who are preparing to cast their first-ever ballots in a presidential election.

Betts originally met some of the participants for this project while documenting climate change activists, and others came as recommendations from friends. Here's what they have to say about voting:

Renee, 18

Anna Betts

“I am voting because I feel like, growing up as a person of color in America and especially being a woman, it is super important to use every opportunity to give yourself a voice. I want my voice and the voice from my community to have power. We need to make sure that what we vote for and who we vote for is working for our community and stands with us as it affects our lives every day.”

“I feel like young people often hold themselves back from politics or voting in general because we are told often that our voices and votes don’t matter.”

“I feel like social media has changed the way that my generation is able to share information. I grew up with my dad watching the news so I still watch the news and talk to him on a daily basis about what is going on. But for me, social media has really changed the power that my voice and my friends' voices have. Social media has allowed us to get our message out there. It has helped movements like Black Lives Matter to spread information and gain a bigger platform. It has allowed us to get real stories told and known.”

“I grew up in a family that was always involved in politics. In terms of my friends, I am definitely on top of them, if that means keeping them informed and making sure they know the impact of their voices, especially being first-time voters. I think we are all working on keeping each other in the loop and making sure that we know how important this election and voting in this election is.”

Maya, 18

Anna Betts

“I am voting because I feel like there is nothing else I can do.”

“The issue that matters to me the most in this election is the climate crisis.”

“I think that young people don’t vote because they don’t think that they can change anything and they may feel cynical and disillusioned by the voting system. I think that if the political parties or candidates want to get more young people to vote, they should pander to them. Talk about things that they care about and cater to them in their policy proposals.”

Emmanuel, 25

Anna Betts

“I am voting because I believe the historical disenfranchisement of people of color, especially Black people in America, created pockets of disillusion for politics and voting. I think that culturally, I inherited some of that, but I feel like 2020 is a big watershed moment socially and politically, and I am ready to participate.”

“The issues that matter to me the most represent a larger acceptance of a democratic socialist thought. But are also ones that I think spill over into equity in this country. One thing specifically would be student loan debt and also reparations. In general, things that move the political and social conscience of America, rather than looking at the bottom line as economics and GDP to looking at more human-centered metrics to really define the success of a country.”

Estefania, 25

Anna Betts

“I am voting because this is the first time that I am legally allowed to vote. I became naturalized as an American citizen a few months ago.”

“Like most young people, the issues that matter to me the most are climate change, but also healthcare and racial reform in this country. There’s honestly a lot of issues that matter to me. The list is pretty long.”

“I feel like young people don’t often vote because we spend so much of our lives not being able to decide what you’re going to do, or where you’re going to go in your life, and then suddenly you turn 18 and your country is asking you to make these big decisions and it feels so far out of your hands, but it shouldn’t.”

“I think it is important to vote because when you’re voting for presidential candidates, you're not just voting for the president — you’re voting for the secretary of education, the interior, you’re voting for their entire cabinet. And all of those people are also going to help govern. It’s important that we look past just one person.”

“I think both political parties need to start having younger people as the face of their parties and platforms. A lot of young people don’t really see themselves in two old white guys. That’s why someone like AOC has been so riveting for young people and has made people so excited about politics. She speaks to young people.”

Abbas, 22

Anna Betts

“I am voting because when I look at America today, it makes me feel a lot different than it used to. I have always considered myself political, but I never really felt the need to vote. I always looked at politics as something that was never going to affect me. The more I became informed and began to read more into it, I realized that my entire stance had been a by-product of my white privilege. I started seeing how politics and who is in charge, affects everyone's lives, my friends, people in my classes at college. I remember when Trump got elected, kids were crying in my classes and our teachers told us to go home for the day. When you look at the huge wave of protests this year, the amount of people dying due to COVID-19, that is all a by-product of who we have as a president. I always believe that whether the president of the United States is a Democrat or Republican shouldn’t matter because the president ought to be for the people. I see today’s president as someone who is solely focused on protecting the interests of his supporters. When you think about the debate, he refused to denounce white supremacy because that makes up some of his base. If he is going to go that far to protect the interests of his base, then that's not who we should have as a leader. He should consider all American interests equally.”

“I think young people don’t vote because they often don’t see politics directly impacting their lives on a day to day basis. For example, it’s hard for young people to imagine the consequences or impact of higher or lower taxes as they are still navigating their early careers/school. A lot of young people already have healthcare from their parents so they might take all these things for granted and not realize the impact or importance of these political issues. I feel as though young people are starting to get more politically active. I think that this election will be one of the biggest turnouts of young people.”

“President Trump being diagnosed with the coronavirus hasn’t changed my opinion on the election. But I think it should change a lot of people’s outlooks, especially his supporters. When you look at healthcare in this country, it’s one of the biggest problems we have, and it has been plaguing politics and political campaigns for years. Healthcare has become wildly expensive.”

Catie, 20

Anna Betts

“I am voting because I want to see individuals in government who are actively advocating for women's rights, LGBTQ rights, minority rights and who are fighting against the climate crisis.”

“I think young people don’t vote because they are constantly being told that their opinions are wrong or that they don’t matter and that older people know better than us.”

“I get the majority of my political information and news from the New York Times, CNN, and of course, TikTok. I have been encouraging my friends to vote by sharing resources with them on my Instagram stories about information on how to register to vote, what and who they would be voting for depending on their districts, and reminding them how important their voice is.”

Pema, 21

Anna Betts

“I am voting because I don’t think the current elected officials represent the full population of the United States.”

“The issues that matter the most to me are that the youth are being involved in whatever decisions are being made in politics.”

“I think young people often don’t vote because the voices of the youth are hitting a barrier when it comes to politics, our demands are not being met and we often are not listened to or taken seriously. I think this is especially reflected in the policies that are being enacted compared to the policies that they are saying that will enact but never do.”

“I think young people should go out and vote. I’m not saying that Biden is the best candidate or the best representation of our voices, but anything is better than the authoritarian government that we have right now. I think that every single vote really does make a difference and the Trump administration is doing everything that they can to make sure that our votes aren’t counted, so it’s even more important that we vote.”

Eric, 20

Anna Betts

“I am voting because as a citizen in this country and as a member of society, I feel like it is very necessary to voice your opinions in this democracy that we live in. It is very important for change.”

“The issue that matters most to me in the upcoming election is equality. Whatever that may mean to you. Equality for every class, equality for every race, equality for every sexuality and gender. When I vote, I want to have that at the back of my mind and hope that I am voting for the person that pushes for equality.”

“I think a lot of young people do not vote due to the fact that they can’t see change. It can be kinda difficult sometimes to look at what is happening in the world and look at our history and notice any specific change. But I do think it is very necessary to, as mentioned earlier, voice your opinion and utilize this democracy that we have. I can understand that feeling of thinking 'What is changing? What is different?’ when you look around the country, but voting is still so important in order to get things done.”

Jennalynn, 18

Anna Betts

“I am voting because I feel that I have an obligation to vote. It is my civic duty. Because I have the ability and privilege to be able to vote, I should use that privilege.”

“Young people are actually a lot busier than people think that we are. That could be one reason why young people tend not to vote. For myself, I’m working, I am also a student, I haven’t been home in nine months, so I think that young people feel like there will be so many more elections in the future to participate in. But after the last few years we have seen, and seeing all the injustices in this country, I would hope that people feel the need to turn out and vote. Also, there is no national holiday that is currently in place for voting day.”

“I’d like to tell other young people that voting is important because we have the power to influence the type of legislation that gets passed during their term. With Trump and Biden, I know that neither of them are necessarily the best or perfect candidate, but they are still going to be able to play a huge pivotal role in global politics. So it doesn’t really matter what we want right now, as it's a bad situation to be in, but let's try and get the best of what we can as of now. This will also influence Supreme Court nominations, which last a long time, and local elections will be influenced due to certain endorsements from presidential candidates — it’s all incredibly important. If we focus on local elections along with national elections, your vote actually does matter, and I think the people forget how influential local elections and local politics is.”

Milo, 20

Anna Betts

“I am voting because I am not happy with the way that the country is being run. I want more stability in my leadership and more consistency.”

“The issues that matter to me the most in this election are Medicaid, Medicare, and police reform.”

“A lot of young people don’t vote due to a combination of a feeling of disconnect and they don’t see themselves represented and they don’t feel like there’s a candidate that they are excited about. But I think it is still important to vote because even if both candidates are not your perfect candidate, you want to choose the lesser of two evils. You may not believe in the person, but you can believe in their administration or views.”

Jade, 18

Anna Betts

“I am voting because I don’t feel like I have a choice. In my family, it is not always normal to vote. My parents didn’t really start voting until Obama, and I want it to be standard in my family. I want to make sure that we always look out for our best interests at the polls.”

“The most important issue to me is the climate crisis. My perfect candidate would address the climate crisis on day one using the most urgent timeline possible.”

“I feel like young people don’t vote because our government education and our civic education in the United States is just absolutely terrible. When you grow up here, there's really no emphasis on how you’re going to improve democracy or how you are going to make your contribution. When you turn 18, no one tells you exactly how to do that or really puts in front of you plans that are relevant to your own life.”

Amanda, 20

Anna Betts

“I am voting because I am not happy with the political climate of our country right now, and I want to be a part of the positive change that we can have.”

“A lot of young people often don’t think they have sufficient information or experience regarding certain issues, which may lead them to not vote. They are often worried about whether their opinions are correct or informed enough.”

“I hope that Trump getting COVID makes people take the virus and pandemic more seriously and influences their decisions about who to vote for.”

AJ, 19

Anna Betts

“I am voting because it is my civic duty. In this election, the issues that matter to me are the repeal of Citizens United v. the FEC, complete prison reform, police reform to the extent of the end of qualified immunity and civilian oversight of policing. I think that it is hard to think that our votes matter, and that's why many young people don’t vote. Even if someone doesn’t like Trump or Biden, they should still vote as even if they like one of their policies, they should vote to show support for that one policy.”

“I get my political information from a mix of sources. I try to balance my sources. I read liberal sources like CNN and MSNBC and also more conservative sources like Fox News and some more neutral ones like AP.”

Kaylee, 20

Anna Betts

“I am voting for the people in my community who can’t.”

“As a daughter of immigrants and a first-generation American, the issues that matter most to me in this upcoming election are issues of immigration, especially with everything happening at the border right now. There’s not a lot of representation for people who come from countries like the Dominican Republic and Haiti, who make up a large percentage of the people being detained in the ICE detention camps. I’m voting for them. Also, these past few months have shown us that healthcare is a right and that when people don’t have their basic needs met, issues become exacerbated. The pandemic has struck my community the most as I am from the Bronx. Black and brown people have been affected the most because they often don’t have access to adequate healthcare so I am also voting for them.”

“I think one of the main reasons why young people might not feel inclined to vote is because they don’t really feel represented by either candidate that is on the ballot for this election. These are conversations that have been had for many years, about electoral politics and whether it really represents the interests or needs of the population. I feel like it is important for young people to vote, especially in this election.”