Members of Congress receive numerous calls from constituents seeking various items, the majority of which are politely declined by staffers. However, one call in particular has been consistently bypassing the gatekeepers: the one from Chris Evans.
That Chris Evans, indeed.
For a year and a half, the 39-year-old megastar (he turns 40 on June 13), best known for his role as Captain America in the Marvel films, has been quietly working the halls of the Capitol, occasionally in person, to persuade senators and representatives to set aside their hyperpartisan hyperbole and explain their political and policy views to a new generation of voters in under two minutes.
Evans co-founded A Starting Point with director and actor Mark Kassen and health care entrepreneur and philanthropist Joe Kiani. The two-minute interviews are posted on A Starting Point’s app and website. Politicians discussing policy may appear to be heavy fare for the TikTok generation, but the venture has defied gravity thus far. It has over 140,000 Instagram followers and 72,000 Twitter followers—significant numbers for content focused exclusively on politics, especially given the site’s nonpartisan approach. (Despite its emphasis on the TikTok generation, A Starting Point is not active in that space, ceding it to younger posters.) “I adore the idea of obtaining concise information directly from those most directly involved in the political process, in their own words and without journalistic embellishment,” Evans says. “This is about comprehending who the elected officials are and how they vote.”
The site allows politicians to weigh in on any subject at any time. However, the majority of the action centers on pairs of opposing-party politicians expressing their disagreements on current hot-button issues. Thus, the home page recently featured dueling videos featuring Republican Ohio Representative Dave Joyce and Democratic Oregon Representative Earl Blumenauer debating federal cannabis policy, as well as Democratic California Representative Katie Porter exchanging points and counterpoints with Republican South Dakota Representative Dusty Johnson about filibuster elimination.
“When I was a teenager, politics felt disconnected from what mattered to me,” Evans explains. “Perhaps if I had the opportunity to listen to someone with a powerful voice like Katie Porter, I would have been inspired and curious.”
For decades, the youth vote was so unreliable that political campaigns considered it insignificant in comparison to the more certain payoff from older voters. Millennials, now mostly in their 30s, have begun to bend that curve, demonstrating a willingness to vote. However, the younger Generation Z has accelerated the trend, as it includes a slew of new voters each year. According to Tufts University’s Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, approximately 55% of eligible voters between the ages of 18 and 29 voted in the 2020 elections, up from 44% in 2016. (CIRCLE).
This increase, which is greater than that experienced by other age groups in 2020, helped boost the youth vote to 17% of all votes cast, the highest level since the voting age was lowered in 1970. Additionally, future elections may see additional increases, according to CIRCLE Deputy Director Abby Kiesa. The 2020 increase was particularly pronounced among 18- and 19-year-olds, implying that they, along with the sub-18 voters who will reach voting age in 2022 and 2024, may usher in a new surge of numbers centered on ever-younger voters. “This level of growth among young voters is unprecedented,” she says.
Politicians have largely ignored the 10- to 25-year-olds Evans is targeting. That could be because Gen Z has demonstrated a lack of interest in traditional sources of information, having been raised almost entirely on Snapchat videos. “They are savvy consumers of digital media, but candidates rarely speak directly to them about issues that matter to them,” says Elizabeth Matto, director of Rutgers University’s Center for Youth Political Participation. “Any method by which elected officials can engage them in an unfiltered manner online will resonate with them.”
Gen Z is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore. These young voters are not content with simply voting on election night; they are also quick to get involved in grassroots politics, such as petitions, campaigns, and protests. This commitment to issues and willingness to act on them, combined with a social-media-centric worldview, is reshaping the political landscape. The fact that short clips of babbling politicians can strike a chord with these young voters may portend a sea change in the American electorate.