Young Voters Media Consumption & Political Engagement

Change Research, led by a team of Gen Z and Millennial pollsters, conducted a poll of 1,033 voters between the ages of 18 to 34, from August 25-September 1, 2023. The modeled margin of error for this survey is +/- 3.4%.

The report highlights findings from the poll related to young voters’ behaviors and opinions towards media, platforms, and campaign communications.

Young Voters are Very Online

Young voters exhibit a strong proclivity for using their phones, often staying plugged in for an extended period of time. The plurality (38%) of young voters say they spend at least three to five hours on their phones a day, and almost a third (29%) say they spend more than five hours. We see the majority of groups across demographics spend more than three hours a day on their phones. 

There are significant differences in how long young voters are plugged in based on generation, political affiliation, and gender. Gen Z voters aged 18 to 24 stand out as the most digitally connected, with three-quarters (75%) reporting they spend more than three hours on their phones daily. In contrast, 60% of Millennial voters exceed this threshold.

There is a notable divergence based on political affiliation, with a higher percentage of Democrats (74%) reporting extended phone usage compared to Republicans (54%). Similarly, left-leaning voters (73%) are more likely to say they spend more than three hours on their phones compared to moderates (61%) and conservatives (52%). Conversely, a majority (53%) of young voters who self-identify as MAGA restrict their phone usage to three hours or less.

Gender also plays a significant role, with a higher proportion of women (71%) dedicating more time to their phones than men (61%). This trend extends to political affiliation, where more Republican (63%) and Pure independent women (66%) exceed the three-hour daily usage threshold compared to Republican (49%) and Pure independent men (55%). Additionally, Millennial women aged 30 to 34 (64%) exhibit greater phone engagement than their male counterparts in the same age group (47%). These findings collectively underscore the multifaceted nature of digital connectivity among young voters.

Active Engagement vs. Passive Consumption

The plurality of young voters of all backgrounds say they take a middle-ground approach to consuming news. Close to half (43%) say they proactively consume news when there’s a big news story but otherwise passively consume news stories. A quarter (25%) say they proactively try to stay up-to-date on the news, a fifth (19%) say they passively consume news even when there is a big news story, and almost a fifth (12%) say they try to avoid the news.

Across a range of backgrounds, it’s apparent that men tend to display a greater proactive interest in staying informed about the news than women. The most significant differences are noticeable among voters aged 18 to 34, where men (30%) are more proactive compared to women (15%). Similar disparities are evident among Pure independent voters, with men (39%) displaying a substantially higher degree of proactivity in comparison to women (16%). However, Republican women (27%) and Black women (39%), are more proactive in staying updated with the news than their counterparts, Republican men (24%) and Black men (32%).   

Certain groups say they try to stay more up-to-date with the news than others. These groups are Pure independent men (39%), Black women (39%), women (39%), Millenial men aged 30 to 34 (33%), Black men (32%), and Democrat men (34%). On the other hand, about a third of Pure independent women say they try to avoid the news. Additionally, a smaller group of Pure independent women takes a middle-ground approach to consuming news, a behavior that’s more typical in other demographic groups. 

Perceptions of Social Media Platforms

YouTube (79%), Instagram (70%), and Facebook (62%) are the most widely accessed platforms within this generation. These three platforms are also most regularly accessed for news and current events-related content. Democrat men (61%) and Republicans (51%) predominantly prefer YouTube as their primary source of news. In contrast, Democrat women favor TikTok (37%) and Instagram (26%) as their go-to platforms for news updates. Notably, Facebook does not feature among the top three platforms for Democrats. Rather, the groups that are most likely to say they use Facebook for news are Millennial men (73%) and women (80%). A minority (46%) of Gen Z respondents even say they use Facebook, let alone for news consumption (23%).

Twitter and Reddit are more popular among Democrats (25% and 23%) than Republicans (18% and 11%). Notably, among young voters, Reddit is more popular than traditional news sources, such as cable news (14% and 11%, respectively) and cable TV (9% and 11%, respectively).

Democrats and Republicans are listening to very different podcasts. For instance, the Joe Rogan Experience and The Ben Shapiro Show are frequented by almost half (46%) of young Republicans, while less than 5% of Democrats tune in to these podcasts. Democrats demonstrate a broader range of podcast genres aligned with their personal interests, and twice as many Democrats listen to podcasts such as The Daily (18% vs. 7%) and Pod Save America (9% vs. 2%) compared to Republicans.

Young people do not trust various social media platforms. Twitter, in particular, faces a credibility challenge, with over half (55%) of young voters saying it as a source of misinformation, and only 8% say it’s a credible source of news. Conversely, YouTube has a very positive reputation among young voters, with a larger proportion (19%) considering it credible and only about a third (33%) believing it spreads misinformation. This highlights YouTube's potential as a valuable channel for reaching our supporters and persuasive audiences.

Young people are acutely aware of the mental health risks associated with these platforms. Nearly half of them say that Twitter (48%) and TikTok (49%) are bad for mental health, with an additional two-fifths (41%) sharing similar concerns about Instagram. In contrast, a considerably smaller percentage of young voters say YouTube is bad for mental health (14%) or as a platform that spreads hate (14%). These findings highlight that YouTube is the social media platform that young people view most positively and frequently use to find news. This information should guide our strategies when engaging with our target audience.

Campaign Communications

Majorities of young Democrats prefer to learn about an election or candidate online. These online avenues include visiting a candidate’s website (54%), stories in the news (51%), and following a candidate on social media (44%). In contrast, a smaller proportion (15%) of Democrats favor receiving information through political advertisements. Even fewer Democrats prefer obtaining information through direct interaction with candidates or their campaign volunteers, whether in person (10%) or via phone (6%).

Democrats highly value when candidates and elected officials actively engage with young voters (84%). Additionally, Democrats across age groups express approval when candidates and officials engage in debates with members of opposing political parties (80%) and when they actively respond to comments from constituents (77%). Remarkably, when we asked respondents which officials have a social media presence they resonate with, young Democrats wrote in Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Bernie Sanders, Katie Porter, and Jon Fetterman, while young Republicans wrote in Vivek Ramaswamy and Donald Trump.  

Democrat women and men are less approving when candidates and elected officials collaborate with social media influencers (18%) or celebrities (16%). Furthermore, approval ratings decrease significantly when officials either lack a social media presence (13%) or engage with online trolls (10%). These findings underscore the importance of maintaining a positive and constructive online presence for politicians.

Young Voters on Civic Participation

Both Democrats and Republicans have a strong proclivity for participating in civic actions. A substantial majority of Democrats express their willingness to partake in various forms of civic engagement, including signing petitions (90%), volunteering their time (73%), making monetary contributions (72%), participating in protests (75%), attending political rallies or fundraisers (62%), and corresponding with or calling politicians' offices (66%). Remarkably, the sole civic action where Republicans exhibit a greater likelihood of participation compared to Democrats is attending public meetings pertaining to town or school affairs (72% vs. 70%). 

Yet, our research shows that young Democrats want to be involved, not only in terms of engagement but also in terms of their readiness to volunteer and donate financial resources to a wide array of issues and causes. These encompass endeavors to protect abortion rights (86%), fight climate change (86%), address racism and discrimination (83%), and support LGBTQ+ rights (82%), among others. The prevailing theme is that young Democrats are resolute in their dedication, not only in their deep concern for various issues but also in their active participation in the ongoing work aimed at addressing these concerns.