For two decades, John Della Volpe has directed the Harvard Youth Poll, the most comprehensive study of youth attitudes related to politics and public affairs for Harvard Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics.
A few months ago, John’s best-selling book was issued in paperback — it’s called Fight: How Gen Z Is Channeling Their Passion and Fear to Save America — and it’s been called “the definitive account of America’s next great generation,” and “a great read with a tremendous amount of learning for anyone engaging with the most exciting generation in decades.”
John Della Volpe is also the Founder and CEO of SocialSphere — a public opinion research firm based in Cambridge.
He appears regularly on Morning Joe and is an NBC and MSNBC Contributor.
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- Twitter – https://twitter.com/dellavolpe
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Transcript – Please note, this Transcript is AI Generated. It has not had the discerning ears of a real human to edit it, as such, there are bound to be a few errors
Jimmy Tingle 0:05
Hey everybody, this is Jimmy, welcome to the Jimmy tingle show with politics Code Blue. We have a very special guest for you today, folks. That’s right, an author who has written the definitive book on how the younger generation specifically Gen Z is going to take over the world, ladies and gentlemen, or at least save the world put it that way. The name of this book is how Gen Z is channeling their fear and passion to save America. The name of the book is fight. Please welcome my guest John della Volpe. This man is at the IOP, the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He is the head of the polling division. But right now please welcome John della Volpe. John, this book is fantastic. Thank you for joining us today.
John Della Volpe 0:47
It’s such a pleasure to be with you, Jimmy and thank you so much for the kind words about the book.
Jimmy Tingle 0:51
Oh, it’s great. It’s written in simple, clear language about Generation Z, the Zoomers, as John refers to them. I love that term, the zoom as well, just to speak to the quality of John della Volpe is polling ability out of all the pollsters that were bearing all this brick heartbreaking news for the Democrats in the 20 to 22 midterms that Democrats are going to get killed. There’s a red wave come in, the Democrats are going to lose 40 5060 seats in the house. All this nonsense. Mr. Della Volpe over here was telling people Oh, no, not so fast. Your numbers were Devin, John, and just give us a little window into the role that young people played when it came to the 2022 midterm elections.
John Della Volpe 1:43
Yeah. Hey, thanks for recognizing that for me. When I talked about in the days leading up to the election, I spent a lot of time on MSNBC. I said, Listen, I’m not sure if there’s gonna be a red wave. I’m not sure if there’s gonna be a blue wave. But I’m guaranteeing you there will be a Gen Z win. Okay. And that’s what happened. We saw specifically in the key battleground states, we saw turnout that eclipsed or was very close to eclipsing modern records, number one, and then we saw support for Democrats that honestly was off the charts. For example, John Fetterman won close to 75% of the youth vote. Sorry, 5%. It’s it’s just number that was in Pennsylvania, you know, Mark Kelly, in Arizona for the Senate, look, to get over 70%. So listen, the votes of everybody over the age of 30. Were the reason that Democrats hold the Senate today. And the reason that Kevin McCarthy is hold on to the house, you know, by the by the, you know, by his eyes, fingertips here, that younger people overwhelmingly supported Democrats and they voted numbers we were frankly, most people had not expected it was just a misreading of I think, the passion of the youth electorate, and how much porn has changed and needs to change or evolve in this Trump era.
Jimmy Tingle 3:07
But for the audience, just describe what is Generation Z? And what what age group are we talking about?
John Della Volpe 3:14
Here’s the simple way to think about this. Okay, if you are younger, and you remember September 11, and September 12, and 13th, how we all came together, and after that, after that tragic, you’re squarely in the millennial camp. Okay. Yeah, if you don’t, or if your memory is hazy, like my kids, they were in first grade and preschool during that time, you’re squarely in Gen Z. And what that means is you don’t have a living memory of America standing up, you know, and being at our at our best. And I think that’s such a key component of, of what makes Gen Z, Gen Z.
Jimmy Tingle 3:52
And when you talk about they turn in their fear and passion into positive action, what is their fear based on?
John Della Volpe 4:00
Well, it depends upon I think, who you’re talking to, I’ll never forget, I talked about in the book, a young woman from the Midwest, she said, listen, the way people like you and your generation, think about your taxes, you know, your paycheck, you know, and that stress, she said, that’s the stress that we have every single day, every time they walk into a classroom and our torium a theater are carrying the weight of whether or not there’ll be another mass shooting, whether there’ll be gun violence. That’s just one example. In terms of the fear. There’s also a tremendous fear about kind of the economic opportunities right? Can they afford an education? Can they afford an education, have a profession and live in their hometown and be able to afford a basic basic life, right? That’s something that also weighs them down, of course, concerns about the future of the planet and climate and their environment, another fear. And today, one of the things that makes me optimistic makes me hopeful is that they talk about the fears and trying to protect the rights of those more vulnerable than even themselves, you know, younger people who are identify and the LGBTQ community as an example, you know, young immigrants as an example. So these are among the areas that gives them fear stresses them out. But, again, when you’re faced with fear to me, you know, you could turn away we can lean in, right. And I think what is emblematic about this generation is they’re standing up, and they’re fighting. It’s a little bit of an homage fight. It’s an homage to my hometown of Brockton, Massachusetts, you know, a place that had such world renowned fighters in the day. Yeah.
Jimmy Tingle 5:41
A world renowned You’re not kidding. Rocky my Ciana when marvelous Marvin Hagler right off. Exactly. Great, great fighters. And Brooklyn’s a great town. It’s so great that a guy from Brockton is now at Harvard. I love that. Not only at Harvard, doing polling, but having such an influence on the on the culture right now, in terms of politics, because, yes, they were afraid. And as you say, in the book, they turn their passion into action. Their efforts have been so consequential in the last four or five elections going back to 2000. Because the the mantra used to be well, young people are important, but young people don’t vote. And this generation of young people has completely flipped the script on that. I was reading about a Parkland, would you say that Parkland was pretty pretty instrumental in the whole rise of Generation Z?
John Della Volpe 6:37
It was certainly kind of a defining moment. And for me, you know, I asked younger people in all Americans kind of what they think, right, so I measure things based upon change of attitude month, over month or year over year. And we saw a significant change of attitudes related to gun safety, pre and post parkland. But I think it may be more accurate to actually widen the lens a little bit. I think it’s a combination of Mandalay Bay, actually, right on October 1 2017, in Las Vegas, and that country music concert and Parkland together, but it was the response of David Hogg, who I talked about extensively in the book, who he and I had become friends after he visited and attended Harvard for four years. But it’s that moment where younger people essentially kind of challenge their generation and challenge all of us to stand up, you know, and to organize, and to take matters into their own hands. And that was a defining moment. And I saw again, as our attitudes change, but I also saw wherever these young people organized, wherever there was a protest, wherever there was a rally, we also saw large numbers of young people registered to vote afterwards. So it wasn’t just that they were talking, they were following it up and backing it up. And don’t forget, we saw at the summer of 2018, we saw our AOC beat back, you know, Congress, Congressman, I think Crowley who was a key member of the Democratic coalition, a Democratic leadership, again, I think that was kind of inspired by a lot of younger people. And then in 2018, we saw the largest turnout of recent times among younger people in that midterm election.
Jimmy Tingle 8:17
Right? So they’re turning their anger and their fear, and their passion into political action. It’s very exciting. And of the examples that you use in the book of the differences of which candidates actually win these elections, is really revealing, for example, Barack Obama, right.
John Della Volpe 8:37
When I started this research at the IOP, back in, back in 2000, there was essentially no such thing as a generation gap, you know, a younger person in their teens or 20s, was just as likely to vote Republican as Democrat, okay. And that over the over the course of several years war, lack of response to natural disasters like Katrina, etc. That’s that change. And what Barack Obama did, and I actually think that a lot of that we saw, you know, personally, Massachusetts, following up on what Deval Patrick did as well, right. They knew they both knew that to win the Democratic primary, they needed to what I call expand the franchise, right? And what Senator events Senator Obama did was, he focused on younger people in particular in Iowa, in fact, a 17 year old could vote, he tapped into high schools, he tapped into younger people. And he won that under 30. Vote 55%. He won a majority of just that vote. He lost everybody over the age of 30. But it was enough to carry him through. In fact, Hillary Clinton came in third place among younger people. John Edwards came in came in second place, but I think Hillary got like 10 Maybe 11 presets, you know, and I was actually I was actually in New Hampshire and met some refer advisors the next one. Morning, when they said, where they said, supposedly Secretary Clinton had said, find me young people, you know, she had known that the campaign underperformed with younger people. And she tighten that up went on to win New Hampshire. But I argue in the book that if she just did slightly better, in Iowa with younger people, she would have won that Iowa caucus, she already had watchI was on her way to winning New Hampshire primary. And she likely would have been President, if not for just a couple of 1000 younger people in Iowa, who, who the Obama campaign really, really invested and made them an important part of who they were in the leadership of that campaign and picked evidence.
Jimmy Tingle 10:40
How important is it to have people around you who are visionary in that respect, because not all campaigns will look to younger people? I mean, the Obama campaign did, but you just as you say, in the book, Hillary had more of the, you know, the the old guard with her who had come up through the ranks with Bill and his eight years in office. And so but how important is it to have a younger generation of operatives and people who are thinking that way?
John Della Volpe 11:11
I think it’s it’s obviously very important, right? It’s obviously very, very important, because it and I’ve had a lot of conversations at the IOP. My students and I, we briefed all the campaigns. And I remember I talked about this in the book, I remember briefing the Obama campaign, we had I think six or eight other key of the of the of the early state coordinators or managers on that call. They knew they were hungry, they needed to knew that they needed to rewrite the framework, you know, in the playbook. If there were going to be successful, and it started with younger people. And what I think now we’re like, those are millennials back then that was in 2008 2018 2000 22,022. I believe that a lot of people now understand and appreciate your the importance that young people play. And I think there’s probably more recognition that they that they do vote, and that they do need to kind of be listened to. But then the question is, you know, who around the campaign table is, is is listening and empowering those voices. I think it’s it’s so important that every campaign from from from city council to Mayor to Governor to to President United States needs to have you know, kind of younger people at the at the core at the center
Jimmy Tingle 12:29
of it. Right now, as a pollster, when you took the job, which I thought was really fascinating. You took a leave of absence from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard to work specifically on the Biden campaign. As a pollster, you please explain it to us what exactly does the polls to do?
John Della Volpe 12:47
So yes, it was like an incredible honor as the primary was winding down early summer, the Biden campaign approached me and, and the Biden campaign wants to do things differently. We talked about that. They want to do things differently. And typically you have a lead pollster, in he or she is responsible for a team of other pollsters. And they essentially divide up each of the states. Okay, there’s a lead pollster, we’re being charged with like designing messaging, and communication strategy, and then someone would be in charge of Michigan and someone else would be charged with Florida, etc. With the Biden campaign did was they flipped that. Okay, so we had a couple of pollsters John endzone, who was essentially kind of our chief was cylinder Lake who had worked on multiple successful presidential campaigns, going back to the Clinton days filled the Obama days, etc. But then, the campaign also hires subject matter experts, right, Professor Silas Lee, Dr. Lee, from Louisiana, Professor Matt Beretta, who worked on the Hispanic Latino vote, and my team and I work on the youth vote. So what that meant was that, and we were kind of a collective team, essentially the five of us, and we would both review other state polling in terms of younger people, but I would spend, you know, hours and hours and focus groups, you know, with the different constituencies that make up the youth felt, right, because it’s not a it’s not a kind of monolith. So we would we would via zoom, because this was during COVID. Jimmy RIGHT. We would kind of zoom into Arizona and talk to the younger, first time voters of Hispanic or Latino dissents. We would zoom into, you know, Philadelphia, Milwaukee, etc. What we wanted to do was to see kind of whether they were motivated to vote and what questions they had. And the common theme, I recall from those early days is basically kind of a lack of kind of a lack of understanding or connection with Vice President then Vice President Biden, they had not remembered when he was necessarily in the White House, and it was important through that lens. What we understood is to tell his personal story, you So many people take that for granted. But this younger generation didn’t know that many of them share the same kind of working class blue collar roots that he share that he has not necessarily aristocrat. And that was important, because what I want to do as a poster is find those connected points, right? Before we could talk about messages, we need to talk about values, shared values, then we need to write exactly, and then we need to make those values are connected, connected to the person and the messenger. And then we can get to the specific messages, right?
Jimmy Tingle 15:31
So you’re, you’re basically taking the temperature of all the other young people in various parts of the country, what what do they care about what makes him tick and introducing them reintroducing them to Joe Biden? You know, one of the things I thought that one of the highest compliments I ever heard one politician give another politician was one, Barack Obama said, the best thing I ever did was picked Joe Biden as my vice president. You know, I mean, that’s an tremendous compliment. And this is a very successful president to terms. And you know, and I just thought that, that I just thought that, why isn’t Biden touting this? You know, what, that’s like a really, that’s not bragging. That’s just saying, you know, Barack Obama, this is just a quote from Barack Obama, maybe Joe doesn’t say it, but other people say it for him. You know, it was just a really valuable piece of data that I don’t know if they would try not not blow his own horn or something. But I just thought it would be really valuable and for the next election as well. But anyway, so you worked with the with the Biden team, and tell us about the turnout that you were able to deliver, for Joe Biden, I helped deliver for Joe Biden,
John Della Volpe 16:47
first of all, young people delivered it, I measured it, I help it along, perhaps, right. I’m not gonna take credit for that. But all right, I’ll take that. That’s what I’ll take. But listen, for the first time in history, we had a majority, like we had over 50%, for the first time in history, a majority of 18 to 29 year olds turnout. Number one, but more even more importantly than that, we saw 60 61% of those people who vote for Joe Biden. Okay. And that’s the that’s the magic number, we need to get to 50 percents, you know, right, John Kerry got to 55%. Last a bush, Hillary Clinton got to 55 56% loss of Trump’s, so we need to both lose overall turnout, record numbers, but also hit that 60% number, which we did. And listen, if the election were in Arizona, and Michigan and Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Georgia, the election were only held among people in their 40s and older. Donald Trump is president today, it is the double digit margin, averaging 20 points among the 18 to 29 year old group that was responsible for pushing Biden over over over the live finish line in each of those battleground states. In addition, though, in addition to to the Biden Harris ticket, narrowing the gap among seniors as well, so he also improved upon Clinton’s performance with seniors as well. And that’s important, of course, as well.
Jimmy Tingle 18:15
Right. So looking forward, okay. The issues that are driving young people, guns, climate choice, you know, immigration reform, how do you think coming into 2024? How do you think young people are going to respond to the Biden Harris ticket going into 2024, compared to the whoever the nomination nominee is for the Republicans?
John Della Volpe 18:46
Well, I think that’s a key point, right, compared to the alternative, right, that’s a key point elections are about are about differences. And I think those issues, what those issues have in common, and you could add, you know, affordability of housing, you know, to that list as well access to health care, mental health care, but essentially, when you when you look at all of those issues, as you as you talked about, you know, climate, gun safety, healthcare, housing, etc. Those are basic fundamental rights, and the eyes of younger people. And what they see is they see one party who is doing the best that they can to kind of expand, extend and protect those rights. And they see largely the alternative, the opposite happening from the Republican side, at this point. So I think that’s what this fight is going to be. It’s about protecting and expanding what a generation believes are basic, fundamental and human rights.
Jimmy Tingle 19:45
Right. Tell me John, is the book written for people my age, or is a book written for them that the younger folks are who’s the book written for because it’s a fascinating book? I love that it’s inspiring. It’s easy to read. Eat, it’s just a snapshot of American history for the last 2020 years, and how we got where we are, and what the different currents are, and who you’re trying to reach with the book, because I think everybody should read it personally,
John Della Volpe 20:14
I started writing it for basically kind of people like us, okay, people who are our age or older, and to try to again, interpret and to try to kind of share this unique voice in this moment and history and talk about how younger people are already changing this arc of history. When I once it was published. And once I started talking about it, I actually found that it was as helpful to younger people who don’t have the confidence because of the stereotypes, the unfair stereotypes, I think they’re seeing kind of in the media, though, so I wrote it for like, you know, for basically to kind of be a general audience read, but for, you know, parents of younger people, people who work and mentor and are kind of connected with them are an important part of their business. But I think it’s also given some hope and confidence to younger people. Because, you know, and the people I’ve met along the way, some of the stories I elevate, we talked about parkland. But I mean, one of the most moving experiences was was getting getting to know the story in the background of Daniela Fraser. You know, this is a 17 year old woman, you know, high school student at Jimmy RIGHT, who she just wanted to hang out with her friends. It was Memorial Day, right of 2023 COVID. And she was at a bonfire in Minneapolis. And she promised her nine year old niece that she would take her for ice cream cone. And little does she know, little did we know that she was the first witness to what her nine year old niece called their first murder. And that was the murder of the hands of police of George Floyd, a person’s name that we don’t know, I think without Darnell or being brave enough to hold that iPhone out there for 10 minutes, because we don’t know the other dozen men and women who are who are killed at the hands of Minnesota police that year with a 13. Before that. So it’s just not about their values. But it’s also share these experiences of how younger members of generation, I’ve also had tremendous impact in shaping this country, whether they appreciate that or not,
Jimmy Tingle 22:28
right. And they and as you were saying in the book that the most educated and the most technologically savvy, and they’re worldly, and they are less prejudiced than the older generations, and they’re more politically involved, and they want more things. They want more equality, more equity across the board for everybody. It seems that’s what I caught out of the book and interviews you did with people. She actually won the Pulitzer Prize for that video.
John Della Volpe 22:57
She did. She’s a remarkable young woman. And there are a dozen other younger people I talked about, you know, I tell the story of Greta Thun Berg, as well, who we don’t know who Greta is, without David hot, you know, she cared so much about climate, so much of the environment, but she wasn’t able to develop an audience in Stockholm. She says, You know what, I’m going to do what those young Americans did in Florida. I’m gonna try school strike, you know, and a few months later, she has an audience with with the Pope, right and inspiring younger people, not just in this country, but around the world. These were remarkable people.
Jimmy Tingle 23:32
Right. Well, the march for that much for our lives. That came out of the Parkland High School massacre. That was amazing. What’s the young woman’s name? Emma Gonzalez.
John Della Volpe 23:46
Now that’s Emma now now she was by Alex Gonzalez. Yeah.
Jimmy Tingle 23:50
Okay. Emma, and David Hogg and all those folks that these kids 17 years old, organized this national movement that dwarfs anything in the past in terms of gun safety rallies, and it was shipped and they turn and they change the conversation. And they actually got legislation in several states, and Walmart started, said, they’re not going to sell these automatic weapons anymore. And Dick’s Sporting Goods had a change of policy, and they use consumerism and consumer pressure. So they’re very savvy that, as you say, in the book, the most educated, most technologically savvy, the most consumer savvy, and so I finished reading the book feeling hopeful about not only 2024, but they the elections to come because of people like this that are growing up in this country. And they’re not. They’re not apathetic, and they know that they can change things and it actually makes a difference. John, I just want to thank you so much for doing this interview. And where can people get the book? I got my book at the Harvard bookstore, my favorite bookstore, so I want to support the Harvard bookstore. But any bookstore ladies and gentlemen fight how Gen Z is channeling their fear and passion to save America. I love it. So how optimistic are you about 2024? What do you think
John Della Volpe 25:11
I’m cautiously optimistic? I’m cautiously optimistic, you know, listen, the values of millennials and the values of Gen Z have continued to become more such kind of progressive every day in terms of fighting for those more vulnerable, I am somewhat concerned about this citizen creeping in. So I think one of the things I would ask, you know, you and your audience is to all of us, we need to do what we can to kind of reduce the cynicism and make sure younger people are able to see the change that they’ve already made in the country by turning out and such high numbers last year elections, they need to continue continue to do that. Right, a very different place because of them.
Jimmy Tingle 25:52
Right. And do you think that the Biden campaign we’ll get the messaging required to, to explain to people what they’ve done with the infrastructure bill, what they’ve done with green energy, and the green economy, what the the seeds that they’re planting that will bear fruit in the next, you know, few years and, and trying to reduce student debt? I mean, that’s a big thing.
John Della Volpe 26:13
Yeah, I’ve said for quite a while that I think the Biden Harris administration overall, has, ironically, right been the most youth friendly organization, these Ford administration, probably in my lifetime, number one. And I also know and appreciate how much they care about younger people. And it’s gonna be an important part of this campaign. And I’m excited for,
Jimmy Tingle 26:40
okay, and that also means all these people watching over 40, like myself, we got to get out there, we got to knock on doors, we got to donate, we got to call on neighbors, and we have to vote because it’s not just one segment of the population. That’s going to be the game changer. Everybody has to participate if we want a brighter future, John, I can’t thank you enough for doing this interview. Where can people find you if they’re interested? And not only reading more about you, but is there a website? Can they get the book off your website?
John Della Volpe 27:10
Yeah, so So a couple things. So on all the social handles, it’s at della Volpe de l LAVOLPE. And I just started substack, where I’m posting a lot of my original research, JD V on Gen Z, J, AV being on Gen Z,
Jimmy Tingle 27:28
on Gen Z, that’ll be in the show notes. Your website will be in the show notes, if you want it to be, and at della Volpe de ll Volpe at della Volpe, John, it’s great to see you. We will see you on Morning, Joe, we’ll see you on MSNBC, and we might see you roaming the halls of the Harvard Kennedy School when I go back for my annual comedy performance.
John Della Volpe 27:52
Love it. I’ll see you soon. Jerry, thanks so much.
Jimmy Tingle 27:55
Great. So great to see you. Thanks, Emily, and congratulations on the book. It’s a great read. It’s a great contribution to the culture, and we appreciate it. Thank you