State of Democra-Z: Meet four Minnesotan Gen-Z voters

Cover art for State of Democra-Z
State of Democra-Z is a panel of Gen Zers in Minnesota from across the political spectrum sharing their thoughts throughout the 2024 election year.
MPR News

In the last mid-term and presidential elections, Minnesota was among the top states for young voter participation.

Now there are around 800,000 eligible voters between the ages of 18 and 29 in Minnesota. That includes Gen-Z and the youngest millennial voters. And 70 percent of them are already registered voters.

With those kinds of numbers, we wanted to know what’s top of mind for them. In State of Democra-Z, we’re turning to a group of young voters who are paying close attention to politics.

Meet the panelists

Ruth Hailey is a senior at St. Olaf College and a leader at the school’s College Republicans chapter.

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Will Pierce is a junior at Macalester College in St. Paul where he leads the group Mac Dems.

Addie Raum is a sophomore at St. Olaf College who recently worked on Nikki Haley’s campaign in New Hampshire.

Cori Stockard is a junior at the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities and the state president of the College Democrats.

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.

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We attempt to make transcripts for Minnesota Now available the next business day after a broadcast. When ready they will appear here. 

Audio transcript

CATHY WURZER: Here is something you might not realize-- in the last midterm and presidential elections, Minnesota was among the top states for young voter participation. Now, there are around 800,000 eligible voters between the ages of 18 and 29 in Minnesota. And that includes Gen Z and the youngest Millennial voters.

And 70% of them are already registered voters. With those kinds of numbers, we want to know what's top of mind for them. So in a new segment we're calling State of Democra-Z, we're turning to a group of young voters who are paying close attention to politics. Cori Stockard is a junior at the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities and the state president of the college Democrats. Will Pearce is a junior at Macalester College in St. Paul, where he leads the group Mac Dems.

Ruth Haley is a senior at Saint Olaf College and a leader in the school's college Republicans chapter. And Addy Rahm is a sophomore, also at Saint Olaf, who recently worked on Nikki Haley's campaign in New Hampshire. I recently talked with all four of them and started by asking, on a scale of 1 to 10, how enthusiastic are they feeling about this year's election? Here's Addy.

ADDY RAHM: Do negative numbers exist on this scale? Just curious.

CATHY WURZER: Doesn't sound positive, Addy.

ADDY RAHM: Well, it's just like another dumpster fire, right? I'm so pumped that my first presidential election is option A, which sucks and option B, which sucks even more. This is great. But what do my peers think? I'm sure they have similar sentiments in some areas.

CATHY WURZER: CORI, what do you think? 1 to 10, how excited?

CORI STOCKARD: It depends on what excitement means, I think. It's sort of like, I think, going to the dentist or something, where I'm very excited to get done with it. And depending on the outcome, my excitement will be different, which is why it's hard to judge going into it.

CATHY WURZER: Well, you're echoing what other young voters are saying and other folks too. People are feeling pretty disillusioned by this impending matchup between Trump and Biden. I'm curious from what you're hearing from other folks in your sphere of influence. Is this what your friends and classmates are also saying, addy?

ADDY RAHM: It's strange. Ruth and I go to Saint Olaf, which is a pretty liberal college, and there's a lot of support for Joe Biden. But it's very, very reluctant support. I think people are looking forward to the election in the sense that they think that this will be the end of Donald Trump, but they don't really love Joe Biden. It's definitely mixed sentiments from the people that I talk to.

CATHY WURZER: Don't love Joe Biden. But, Ruth, what are you really looking for?

RUTH HAILEY: We don't love Joe Biden at all. I think the last four years have been a testament to poor management in the administration. But also, I don't think that we're going to heal the dividedness in this country and the dividedness that we see especially among young people by this rematch in the 2024 election. I just think it's going to divide people even more.

CATHY WURZER: Will, do you have something to say about this?

WILL PIERCE: Yeah. I would say that I definitely been hearing similar things and get the get similar vibes at Macalester, which is also a small liberal school. The disdain for Biden definitely elevated starting in October of last year at the beginning of the war in Israel-- or the continuation and the escalation of the war in Israel-Palestine-- and the inaction from the Biden administration, I think, very much struck a deep chord with many of my peers, especially at Macalester, and I'm worried will lead them to not vote in this coming fall because of that escalation of violence.

CATHY WURZER: CORI, what are you hearing? You're at the U of M Twin Cities campus-- pretty big school, obviously. What are you hearing from your peers about the options?

CORI STOCKARD: I would say at the University of Minnesota, it mirrors a lot of what other people are saying with regards to either reluctance or outright disdain towards Joe Biden. Those are, I think, the sort of main trends that I see with regards to the discourse around campus.

CATHY WURZER: Say, Ruth, I'm curious-- I want to dive into how you might have formed some of your political beliefs, if I could, please. Is there a person who's had a big influence on how you think politically?

RUTH HAILEY: Absolutely. My mom is a very politically savvy woman. She's very well-read. She graduated from Stanford. And she's always raised her children-- I'm the eldest of five-- to be engaged with what's going on.

And our dinner tables were actually the place where we would discuss politics. And we would discuss important issues. It was always a place of freedom to express our opinions and grow into the people we are today.

CATHY WURZER: Any event, perhaps, that's happened in the world or your own life that might have had a big impact on your political beliefs? Will, anything that has really struck you that maybe got you politically motivated?

WILL PIERCE: Yeah. Well, similar to Ruth, my mom has been a big influence on me, especially in the world of politics. She was a political fundraiser for Democratic pro-choice women for most of my life. Personally, where I got really into politics and taking action of my own right was after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

I grew up in Berkeley, and I was part of a club on campus, and we helped organize a walkout on our campus, along with hundreds of other campuses across the country. And from there, I was able to get further involved in actions at my school and in my greater community. I helped form an organization called Bay Area Student Activists, and we took a couple hundred students every year to Sacramento, to the capitol, to teach our fellow students about how to really get involved in their local and state governments. And for me, that was really the catalyst that took me into my own organizing and activism work.

CATHY WURZER: What issues are really top of mind for all of you? What will you be voting on this election cycle, CORI?

CORI STOCKARD: So I don't know, for me, I'm a little bit, I think, biased, because I'll just vote for Joe Biden. But for voters, I think the question on what they're voting on-- obviously, inflation has been a very core thing. And it's obvious why. Whenever you buy anything, you're thinking about inflation.

Whenever you go to the grocery store, you're thinking about inflation. It's just something that is highly salient, for good reasons, on voters' minds. Something else that I think people will be voting on is social issues. We've had pretty massive disruptions with regards to things such as abortion rights across the country. That's something that has been, again, high salience among voters.

CATHY WURZER: And, Ruth, what issues are top of mind for you?

RUTH HAILEY: Top of mind for me, I would definitely echo what CORI just said about abortion being a very important issue to young people. I personally am pro-life, and that's definitely a very big thing for me and something that is really important when I'm choosing who I'm going to vote for. Another issue that I think people are very conscious of is immigration.

I think that that's, especially in some of our more rural towns in Minnesota, you can see that there's very big immigrant populations. And I think the young people see that we're very diverse and that immigration is a big issue that we want to make sure is done right. Also, I think that the conflict in the Middle East, I think people are going to have a lot of eyes on foreign policy going forward.


WILL PIERCE: For me, personally, queer rights is also huge. As a queer and a trans person living in Minnesota, there's been some great legislative action taken recently and a lot further to go. And I'm fortunate to live here, where I have certain legal protections that a lot of my queer siblings don't have in other states. And I know that's a huge thing.

Also, climate justice, especially for our generation, and for the younger folks coming up behind us-- looking at the way that the administration, both federally, but also on the state and local levels, handles different systems of pollution and climate injustice, and what that means for our livelihood, and health, and physical wellness going forward.

CATHY WURZER: Addy, what issues are important to you?

ADDY RAHM: Yeah, if it's OK, I'm going to speak a little bit to my time in New Hampshire. So for listeners, I had the opportunity to spend the January primary cycle in New Hampshire working on Nikki Haley's presidential campaign. And we did the classic campaign intern things-- door knocking, phone banking.

It was really, really good time. But it became really evident to me that there's a huge gap between what youth voters care about and what older voters care about. I don't think anyone I go to school with is super worried about inflation. You can take it for granted that a lot of people in our generation are going to vote for Joe Biden just because.

They're not thinking about inflation. They're not thinking about conflicts abroad. They're not thinking about what it means to be a world power. They're not thinking about these things.

CATHY WURZER: Thank you for that, Addy. I appreciate that. It's been a pleasure. I thank you all for joining us, and it was very interesting. So I hope if you are amenable to it, we'll have you back. How does that sound?

WILL PIERCE: Sounds great.

ADDY RAHM: Wonderful. Thank you for having us.

CATHY WURZER: Thank you. That was Addy Rahm, Will Pearce, Ruth Haley, CORI Stockert. We'll be checking in with them after Super Tuesday next week and throughout the campaign season.


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